A friend of mine says this time of year is when her ears are happiest because she wakes to the sound of birds singing. She also enjoys the soft patter of rain hitting her roof as she lies in her bed. Did you know that natural sounds — the calls of birds, wind swooshing through trees, and water softly sloshing against the shore of a lake — can actually cause your nervous system to switch into a repair mode, relaxing you? Now scientific research shows this can happen even if you are simply listening to recordings of natural sounds.
Could it be that our ears crave the sounds that make us feel at home on the Earth and remind us of our connection to the natural world? Perhaps our ears whisper to our bodies, “We are at home, now. Relax!”
Even as the healing qualities of natural sounds can cue your nervous system to enter a relax-and-repair mode, these sounds can also help you to shift your emotions and mood. In nature, your brain goes into a state in which your emotional center may still be active but you are better able to integrate its experiences. This happens because the logical, thinking part of your brain (the frontal cortex) is communicating with the emotional center in the limbic brain in a less-charged way. It may explain why nature sounds are so effective for bringing about relaxation and a state of calmness and well-being.
Try spending some time in nature listening with your eyes closed as you stand or sit still. Can you identify where each sound originates and where it travels as it moves through the air around you? Does one sound overlap another? How long does it take for the sound to dissipate to the point where you no longer consciously hear it? Mindful listening, combined with observing the sounds in nature, can help you relax and feel connected to your body and to nature. This experience seems to relativize problems, that is, help you put them in perspective as you become aware that you are part of something larger than yourself and interconnected to a web of life.
As you listen to the rustling of leaves, the buzzing of insects, and the sound of moving water, whether it is waves ebbing and flowing or a river as it tumbles over rocks, notice whether the sounds you hear harmonize with each other. Does one sound catch your ear more than another? Do you notice quieter sounds because of their quality? Can you pay attention to more than one sound at the same time, tuning in to the music they create together?
The next time you are indoors listening to recordings of natural sounds, let your unconscious mind activate as your conscious mind relaxes. You might silently pose a question such as, “What do I need to know about my anxiety?” or “What am I not seeing and understanding when it comes to my feelings?” Wait to see if any wisdom arises within you as you sit quietly, listening to the sounds of nature. If tears flow, or you begin to laugh, that might be an answer you will better understand later when you think about it or do some journaling. If, with your eyes closed, you suddenly imagine yourself dancing or intuit that your worry is connected to a recent loss, pay attention.
The message about your feelings may not come to you in words but as an inner knowing, an image, or even a snippet of music and lyrics. And the message may be simply that you need to listen more often to the calming sounds of nature and spend more time in natural settings.
Try listening to nature sounds and see if your emotions and mood shift. Observe whether you feel more relaxed and more in tune with your natural home: the Earth.