Choose any given day on a street corner in a bustling city, and you will see bodies in motion. All around, sirens scream, motors throb, voices chatter, mobile phones ding, horns honk. The pace of sound unfolding in urban environment is so pervasive that it can sometimes be relentless. Of course, almost every environment has layered sound. In the rolling hills of countryside, you might hear a bird chirping half a mile in one direction, sheep baa-ing to the east, a car rumbling by in to the west, and thunderstorm clouds looming overhead. For thousands of years sound has helped us to measure time and space as a means of survival in the natural world. Sound enhances our proprioception (knowing where we are in space), and helps us to balance our nervous system’s response. Because of the organic, fluidity of sound in nature, it helps us to orient and increase our intrinsic understanding that we are connected and a part of the soundscape.
In urban environments though, with their diverse and dense stretch of life from skyscraper to sewers, sound environments are more compactly layered and textured. Due to sheer number of ‘instruments’ sounding at any one time combined with the increase of man-made objects making sound, the auditory quality is chaotic, forced…superfluous. In comparison with sounds in nature, the city as a soundscape is abrasive, aggressive, crude. In these spaces, sound vibration paired with material density creates a sense that time itself is under strain, as if it has been sped up.The relationship of sound and how we experience time is not to be underestimated. If we consider for a moment that all of manifest life is a result of vibration, it makes sense that sound and time operate together to create a fabric by which we experience reality. I guess it is to be expected, then that the one thing I hear from nearly everyone I work with in central London, despite their age, background or ethnicity, is that everyone wishes they had more Time.
Ironically though, the one thing we all wish we had more of is impossible to contain in and of itself. One moment can not be isolated before it turns into the next; we cannot touch time, or even grasp it wholly as a concept unless it is in the context of something else. Time is a measurement tool that enables us to move through space and observe change, though for many it is seen as more of a container to fill up with consumables of one sort or other.
The truth is, no one will ever have any more, or less time than we do right now. Time is neither speeding up, or slowing down. Hyper-urban environments and technology have led us to experience time as some kind of adaptable bag as we cram our calendars with meetings and appointments that might get us somewhere faster…but my question is where are we all trying to go?
All around us, life is unfolding at the same rate it did for the dinosaurs, for the ice age; for the men who traveled to foreign continents, and likewise to the moon. The only way we will ever have ‘more’ of it is by becoming responsible about what we choose to consume within its framework. When we take an honest look at what we expect of ourselves and other, slowing down and doing less means that our interactions can be more meaningful, even if less in number.
Creating a space doesn’t happen overnight. The starting point is in learning to identify the patterns that lead us to rush, that make us feel anxious or disconnected to begin with. It may be worthwhile asking what has contributed to this current state, and what may be possible to postpone or say no to in order to gain mental space. Holding a space for yourself is all about slowing down and creating a contained measurement of time to go inward; inward to notice thoughts, to experience them as vibrations, to let them go, to listen for stillness. Whether you live in an urban environment or out in the forest, finding this stillness comes not from what’s happening outside, but by what’s happening inside. It’s true, it may be easier to calm the mind in a quiet place in nature, but if the mind is untamed, chaotic, and full of thought, it will feel like Piccadilly Circus at midday, no matter where you are. Life is precious and fleeting…may we create positive sound vibrations, from the smallest thought to the broadest hug and manifest, at least for a moment, the experience of time standing still.
Find time and space in France: Join my retreat, May 10-14