During the week of 16 – 20 March 2020, we were just getting used to the announcement the previous weekend that anyone entering the country would be required to self-isolate for 14 days. It seemed to have the immediate effect of reducing the amount of traffic on the roads, as if everyone had started to keep their heads down, hoping this virus would pass them by.
On Wednesday 18 March, I was talking with a dear friend, and confessed I’d been feeling very strange.
“It’s so silent… it’s as if I can hear it… it’s not just that there’s so little traffic… it’s something more than that. It’s as if I can hear silence…”
And I discovered, she felt the same.
We both felt there wasn’t just less background noise from the lack of traffic, but that even the birds were quiet. As if they’d moved further away. And there was more than this.
“I can hear the silence… as if it’s a presence, a being in its own right. It’s like a psychic, spiritual silence, something we’re not usually aware of.”
It was as if the silence was something we could feel, a weight we could sense. As we attempted to explain what we were feeling, we decided it felt eerie, almost foreboding, as if something else was coming. We talked of it as a psychic silence. That it felt like something beyond this material world, something spiritual. We struggled to find the right word to describe what we were feeling. Perhaps there isn’t one.
Then while talking about this with two other close friends shared that they had noticed strange things involving animals – frogs falling silent, cows clustering together.
It was all starting to feel very unsettling.
Perhaps we had just started to pay attention.
We were noticing the absence of sound.
We were hearing silence.
And perhaps what we were sensing was the sheer enormity and power of the natural world, which our society has managed to separate us from for so long. As if we had suddenly stepped off a structured path and into a forest, and were struck by the changes in sound and smell, of temperature.
I’d felt that I was sensing silence as if it was a weight, something heavy and ominous.
Perhaps the screen of the modern world had lifted, and revealed the ripe, rich, wild world just beyond the doorstep. Not preparing to take over, and not waiting for me to me to cross over, but purely alive and present.
Perhaps what I sensed was the deep, slow heartbeat of the land.
The following Monday, it was announced that Aotearoa/New Zealand would go into lockdown at 11.59pm 25 March for four weeks. I discovered that although nervous, I felt relieved.
And now that we’re a few days in, I’m finding this period of isolation is giving me the opportunity to slow my own rhythms, to synchronize my blood and breathing with the earth.
It was the lack of traffic I was noticing. Fewer cars, hardly any planes.
And the birds?
I hear them. They were always there, in the trees around my house.
It was my listening, my attention that was struggling to adjust to absence.
I have the chance now to fill my ears with every other sound around me.
bird-call, rain, wind
the soft tread of the cat as he crosses the room
the tremor of a leaf
the expectance between heartbeats
the promise of a held breath
the weight of silence
anticipation, abundance, potential