|Photo: Solveig Larsen|
Sometimes the sounds may come to us as a symphony - a word deriving from the Greek syn (together, with) and phone (sound, voice). These sounds may be pleasant and healthy.
Too often though the sounds are a cacophony. Also deriving from Greek: kakos (bad, evil) and phone (sound, voice).
Think about daily life. Most of the sounds many of us hear are of the urban rumble of vehicle engines, blaring adverts, inane musik in shopping malls, the clamour of crowds, or the dissonant scream of aircraft or trains. And, most of the time, we ignore the intrusion, we block it out and it becomes simply background noise.
Amidst all this clatter and chatter what happens to us?
Constant noise has been linked to anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and stroke. Simply put: it’s not good for us.
Noise is a stressor that can trigger our fight/flight response. When noise pollution is constant our stress levels can become chronic and we are left in a constant state of unhealthy stress.
When this is the state for most within a community or society, then the “fight” response manifests itself in aggression, violence and anti-social behaviour.
It is no wonder that many of our political debates descend into name-calling, bickering, and veiled animosity.
Cacophony in its root meaning describes it well, doesn’t it? Bad, or evil, sound.
There is a lost sound that may assist us in reducing the impact of constant cacophony. In fact, it is perhaps so lost in the mists of (western cultural) time that I have had to come up with a new word for it -
Ochiphony. Ochi (όχι) is Greek for no, and added to the phone (φωνο) we saw earlier gives us no sound.
I suppose I could have used the word silence, but that word derives from Latin, and I wanted a word that kept to the Greek derivations as for cacophony and symphony.
However, whether we use silence or ochiphony, the absence of noise is not a sound we usually hear.
That last sentence may appear oxymoronic – hearing no sound. Almost like the famous Japanese koan – what is the sound of one hand clapping?
But, when you stop, even in a very very quiet space away from human artifice, you will still hear something. It may be a bird chirping in the distance, the tinkling of a nearby stream, or perhaps the rustling of leaves in a gentle breeze.
Quieter still. In the absence of sounds from outside yourself, if you stop and listen intently you will hear the sound of your breath on your nostrils, or the beating of your heart.
This is the no sound we have lost. This is the no sound our culture has stolen from us.
It is, however, within our capacity to re-discover it, to re-claim it, to re-invent it.
And now, during this time of lock-downs and self-isolation, may be an excellent time to re-awaken our ability to hear the sound of no sound.1
One of the best descriptions of this no sound and our ability to listen to it comes from Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr, a Ngangikurungkurr woman from northern Australia. In her language it is known as dadirri and she describes it as,
“…inner, deep listening and quiet, still awareness. Dadirri recognises the deep spring that is inside us. We call on it and it calls to us.”2Silence, ochiphony, no sound, then, is a deep listening to what is inside us. It is also reciprocal – we call on it, it calls to us.
No sound allows us to escape the cacophony of the world and reconnect with that part of us that is pure and beautiful. It allows us to reconnect with Nature and our Natural Selves.
Learn to hear the ochiphony within and without.
1. I am writing this at the time of the world-wide epidemic of COVID-19 when most countries had some form of isolation or lock-down policies.
2. The word, concept, and spiritual practice that is dadirri is from the Ngan’gikurunggurr and Ngen’giwumirri languages of the Aboriginal peoples of the Daly River region (Northern Territory, Australia)
P.S. Did you notice the face in the pond in the photo associated with this post? The face reminds us of the "deep spring inside us."