I was in a forest clearing in the Surrey Hills yesterday, surrounded by llamas, as it happens, when I noticed something. For the first time in a long time I couldn’t hear the distant, constant roar of tyres on asphalt. I could actually hear the birds. Perhaps the birds are always around and we just don’t hear them as well over the din. Perhaps they’ve retreated to the quiet places.
On the radio, this morning, there was a short segment about the Vatican’s astronomical observatory. As with many star gazing apparatus, it had fallen into disuse because of light pollution.
I have a friend and ex-colleague who made quite a handsome living producing computers that operated silently. Many people that use computers to produce creative work find the constant whoosh of the cooling fans very off-putting. They need the silence as a backdrop for their thinking and creative processes.
Over millennia, I think we evolved to experience darkness, silence and peace of mind as part of a natural cycle of living. I think these states of awareness permit us to recalibrate, heighten and sharpen our aesthetic senses. When there is nothing to see, hear or think about, the mind and senses are free to retune and to rest. It’s a sorbet for our senses. Like starting with a blank canvas, the experience of silence, darkness and peace of mind are, I believe, essential to combat the fatigue to our ears, eyes and brains that we accumulate over the course of a day.
In most urban settings, there is precious little silence. You can’t easily find darkness. Even when resting, you are still subject to disturbances that break into your solitude, your calm, your hearing and sight. It’s almost inescapable. The frenzy is ever present. Even our dreams and sleep can be invaded by troubles and upsets from our day. Insomnia is the new black.
My Surrey Hills sanctuary was interrupted too soon by the buzz of a light aircraft overhead. Oh well. It was nice while it lasted. We’re bombarded by noise pollution. Our nights are constantly illuminated by tiny surrogate suns, in the name of commerce. Our schedules are so crammed and compacted, that there is no pause for thought or reflection. This blog post came to me in the hours before I awoke, just as consciousness turned itself back on, but before my eyes and body were ready to emerge from slumber. Somehow I got the feeling that this shouldn’t happen. I shouldn’t be thinking when I should be resting and recovering.
It’s called “recreation” for a reason. We need to re-create. We reconstruct and repair our tired senses when we rest. At least, that’s what’s supposed to happen. Perhaps we’re losing something, as artists, by not finding the rest and respite that our key aesthetic faculties require.