#53 The Lost Art of (Wildful) Listening & How to Get it Back

Greetings friends, and welcome to  Episode #53 about reclaiming the art of listening, that is, helping us to truly listen and be able to hear what we may not even realize we’re losing – a landscape devoid of human noise. We’ll be exploring the work of Gordon Hempton, who is an audio ecologist, who has spent his life capturing the sounds of the natural world and learning how truly listening on a regular basis can benefit our emotional and physical health. I’m your guide and host, Lisa Cole, and this is Wildfulness. 


Today’s podcast will  feature clips from the podcast BirdNote (one of my very favorites), which has chosen to feature much of Gordon’s work, as well as a clip or two from an NPR podcast which also explored this topic. And I do have the links to both of those in the shownotes, at http://www.wildful.wordpress.com. I think you’re going to want to visit their websites, and listen to their full podcast episodes. And, as you listen, think of all the places you know in Western Maryland where we can possibly still hear just the sounds of nature, without the intrusion of the sounds of man. Places like the Savage River Forest, the trails deep along the Wild and Scenic Youghiogheny River, Mt. Nebo Wildlife Management area, Cranesville Swamp, and others.  We are so very fortunate to have places where we can be still and just listen, and be in a mindful and meditative state, surrounded by the wild, natural world. Gordon even says that deeply listening can often help him think through the issues and problems that arise in his life. This is key to cultivating an overall state of mindfulness and to successfully managing the stresses of modern living. Here’s a bit of Gordon Hempton’s story. (Audio plays.)

Click here for the complete episode audio file:


[Audio of Gordon’s story ]  Over his long career, Gordon Hampton has mastered the art of truly listening. He’s known as the sound tracker. Some people call him an acoustic ecologist. His recordings and books have made him an international expert on the beauty and importance of undisturbed natural soundscapes and the ways human beings have changed them. Now, Gordon Hampton is losing his hearing. But with that loss has come an intense urgency to share his life’s work and his passion with as many people as are willing to listen. So, Gordon and bird note have teamed up to bring you a truly unique audio experience.


Gordon Hempton travels to beautiful, wild places to capture the essence of nature’s sounds, so the rest of us can come to appreciate those few places on Earth that remain pure and unpolluted by human noise.

Over the next six episodes of this SoundEscapes podcast we will be immersed in soundscapes that Gordon hand picked from some of the most wild, beautiful and sound rich places he’s visited. And he’ll give us a crash course in the art of truly listening. Something that he says is a dying art that’s constantly under threat in our noisy, modern lives.

Before we continue on, let’s pause for a moment for a word from our partner, Deep Creek Times. 

(Audio plays)

Ok, so moving on, Gordon says that when we listen to nature uninterrupted, we start to hear a bio acoustic system at work and a network where birds and insects and predators and prey are all talking to one another, in intersecting layers like a kind of Sonic social network.

Birdsong, for example, may be music to our ears, but we live in a world where it is harder and harder to hear it or any natural undisturbed soundscape for that matter. We humans are spending more of our time in crowded noisy cities, where urban soundscapes are a harsh reality. Urban soundscapes aren’t particularly beneficial to our health. Research has shown that transportation noise for example can contribute to higher blood pressure and cardiovascular problems.

Let’s hear some of Gordon’s recordings, I think you’ll be amazed at what you can hear. This one, is from the grasslands of Saskatchewan. Do you hear somethings besides birds? Coyotes maybe? I think I heard R2D2!



Thanks to the work of Gordon Hempton, we can all have access to pristine, extremely high resolution soundscapes, where we can get in touch with the natural world, minus human noise

Living in noisy environments can elevate stress hormone levels in our blood, even shorten our lives. And those clamoring urban environments lack harmony. Gordon says the sounds of the city have not evolved together the way sounds animals make in nature have co-evolved over millennia. Here’s how Gordon says we can re-learn how to listen: (Audio Plays)

If you want to be a good listener, Gordon says, the first step is to acknowledge that you’ve probably been doing it wrong. The second step is to put down your phone, close that social media app and take control of your own attention span. In our modern world, we do have a choice to pay attention to this, pay attention to that. And there is such a thing as called the attention economy. It’s kind of the new currency, because when they get your attention, then they can sell you this or sell you that. And that’s the way the whole thing works in our world. But that is all intentional information. That’s all information that’s often loud and called important. And all these things remove us from the present moment. And once you become aware of the actual place you are  its fully transformative. There’s no other way of expressing it. Because you can never go back. Gordon talks about noise as a form of pollution, it clouds our thoughts, and it can even separate us from our feelings. So the next step to becoming a good listener. Notice how you feel there’s already a conversation happening between your senses, and where you are. So no matter where you are, notice how you feel there is this connection going on stand in a downtown a street corner for just a few minutes. And then notice how you feel and then make the journey some time to a true wilderness area. And notice how you feel.

What do YOU hear, today, in your typical space? How far do you need to go to get rid of human-made noise? How can we protect these increasingly rare and precious nature-only soundscapes, that are now endangered? Here’s a clip from an NPR podcast on the subject, with insights on those questions, and some information about a nonprofit called “One Square Inch of Silence,” that’s dedicated to saving these sacred, soundful and soulful  places.

(Audio plays)

Wow. It’s actually so unbelievably refreshing to just listen, to force yourself to take in the different layers of the earth’s natural sounds and to surrender to such a beautiful landscape and a beautiful place. It’s like a real gift you can give yourself. You may find, as Gordon Hempton did, that in these kinds of places, you’re able to process feelings, thoughts, and insights, that got crowded out in our noisy human environments. It can be truly transforming.

(Audio, plays)

So, in bringing this journey into silence to a close, I encourage you to find a place without human noise. Visit it when you need to find your center, and to soothe your own savage beast.  And just be aware that, when you do, that special place needs your protection. And so does something else, and that’s your hearing. In my day job, I work at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, which represents professional audiologists and speech-language pathologists. We campaign every year to promote safe listening. May was in fact, Better Hearing and Speech Month. Visit the link in our shownotes to find out how to identify the early signs of hearing loss, and how to safeguard the hearing that you have. It’s everything.

Until we meet again, Stay Wild my Friends.img_1777



BirdNotes “SoundEscapes” podcasts series

NPR “Are You Listening” podcast episode

Gordon Hempton’s “SoundTracker” website and “Quiet Planet” Recordings

Non profit, “One Square Inch of Silence” website

Gordon Hempton and his Recordings


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