The Natural Symphony
A Soundscape Meditation from Creative Lives Director, Maureen Burford
The world is a bit quieter these days, which makes it a wonderful time to stretch the ears and listen in nature. Listening is the balancing side of speaking. The better we become at it, the more subtly we hear! I have led this exercise with children pre-k through high school and with adults as well.
If you and your child(ren) are able to write for themselves, have them gather a journal or writing paper and writing tool. They might also bring out a blanket or tarp they can sit on (with an eye out for friendly ticks). If your child is too young to write, you can sit with them and be their scribe. Bring a bell outside with you, if you have one, to start and end the exercise. If you live near a highway or busy street, that is fine, but it can also be wonderful to take children to a spot where human sounds are less prevalent.Here is an example of how I might introduce this exercise. Make these words your own:
“Many musicians and artists get their inspiration from nature — things they see, things they feel while outside — and what they hear — any of these might become part of a painting, or piece of music, or poem.
The world is a little quieter now, with more human beings resting and waiting at home. This is an especially magical time to listen! Let’s go outside to hear what is going around us. We’re going to be like artist-scientists — writing down everything we hear. I want you to find your own special spot just to listen and write. And then, if you would like to, we’ll share what we’ve written.
Once you find your special spot, settle in and get comfortable. I’ll ring a bell to start us off. You can close your eyes while you listen, as this might sharpen your ears! When you hear something, you might write, “A bird is cawing high above my head. It’s calling again.” or “I hear the wind through the trees. The leaves as clacking against each other.” Don’t worry about what words you use to describe your sounds. Whatever comes to you to write down is just fine! After you open your eyes to write something, you can close them again and keep listening.
Your writing can be very simple, one sentence after the other as you hear new sounds. Listen closely! The more you listen the more you will hear! I will ring a bell to start the exercise and ring it again in ten minutes when the exercise is done. Then we can come back together to share — whenever you are ready — but no speaking! We’ll sit in quiet and listen to each of us who wishes to share their writing.”
There is a power to keeping silent until children begin to take turns reading their aural observations. Once everyone has shared, invite them to reflect on anything they would like to share. It may have been challenging to focus on listening, or it might have felt wonderful. Do they feel differently after focusing on listening? How was it to listen to the writing of others in the group?
It can be lovely to repeat this exercise at different times of day, in different locations, or in one location through the seasons! In my experience, the group energy is often much quieter and deeper after the exercise.
As one fourth-grader shared, “As I leaned on my tree, I felt all of nature was creating a symphony, just for me.”
Take this exercise further over time. At Creative Lives, we share Ellen Tadd’s Framework for Wise Education, which discusses in depth the concept of balance. Balance, according to Tadd, is holding the mid-point between leading and following, speaking and, acting and waiting. We live in a very “talky” world! Cultivating the art of deep listening is both fulfilling and needed! Imagine children extending such thoughtful listening to nature into care for our general soundscape, thoughtful listening to others, and awareness of the art of balance.