The rushing world

The act of sitting in silence. Except it’s never really silence is it? There’s always the rushing world, with its traffic and talk. There’s always air-conditioning, or the sound of the wind. But if you listen closely there’s also sounds of yourself, your breathing, the rush of blood in your ears, the sound of your footfall.

Rushing world – marginalia. Doodled by Dominic

And for some people, the more silence there is, the more disturbing it becomes. Perhaps you too can hear the sound of your fingers, the sound of your eyes moving, the drum of your heart.

At Back on Track today, several people in the group talked about how disturbing it is to be in a quiet room. The exercise that Sophie had suggested, three minutes attention to that silence of the world that is not really silence, brought intense difficulty. One person said that if they were to have another three minutes of silence, they’d feel nausea. Another person talked about having to have white noise in the room before they could go to sleep. Another about how tensely overwhelming the sound of their own body could be.

And Matt, our songwriter, spoke sadly about being plagued by his own ears. The hole in his internal ear means that he’s currently subjected to a barrage of internal noise, including the sound of his own eyes moving.

It became very apparent that the sounds around us are not simply a neutral backdrop. They have the power to completely overwhelm us and they’re to be treated with great care, although often they’re given just the opposite sort of attention.

Finally, one of our group spoke very movingly about synaesthesia, a condition in which sounds and shapes and tastes all intermix. The British poet Bob Cobbing experienced synaesthesia and much of his work attempts to make a shape out of sound. We talked afterwards about such a thing being both a difficulty and a blessing – the hearing, seeing, tasting, touching the world in ways and trained by others. I felt privileged to have sat in this group, to have heard these experiences.

By Philip Davenport. Back on Track, March 2022

Drawing. Dominic

Refuge from the Ravens is supported by the Heritage Fund. In 1798, Lyrical Ballads by Wordsworth and Coleridge sparked a literary revolution — poems in everyday language, telling of people on the margins of society. 200 years later, homelessness and social inequality are still with us and even on the rise. This project invited people with lived experience of homelessness and other vulnerable people to meet Wordsworth across time, replying in poetry, art and song in a Lyrical Ballads for the 21st Century. 

Wordsworth manuscript, close up. Photo Philip Davenport