One of the first things I do on a feng shui consultation is to listen. Too often, we dismiss the importance of sound and focus entirely on how things look. We may admire the lovely entrance, the pleasing colors, and the balanced furniture arrangements. Or on the negative side, we note the clutter in the study, the trashcans too near the entryway, the high voltage wires overhead, or that looming house next door. All of these things are important, of course. But ambient sound has a powerful effect on human beings. Sound affects our nervous and immune systems profoundly. For a living environment to support health, it must sound right. I know this “sounds” a little weird, but bear with me.
We are currently living in one of the noisiest times on the planet. It’s so noisy, almost everywhere, not just in the city, that most of us tune out ambient sound. It’s just too stressful. As I sit here right now, in my suburban house in northern California, I can hear a buzz saw, (or perhaps it’s a weed whacker,) the constant hum of my refrigerator, a dog barking, the tap of my computer keys, and the gentle snoring of my pug who is pressed against my thigh as I work. Altogether, a pretty quiet afternoon except for the irritating whir of that darn weed whacker.
But there are several things missing in my particular soundscape today. The first, and probably the most important, is bird song. Bird song is one of the best indicators of an environment that is supportive of human beings. The reason–humans evolved in grasslands, the savannah, right along with song birds. So the sound of bird song is like music to our ears. In fact, acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton, coauthor of “One Square Inch of Silence: One Man’s Quest to Preserve Quiet,” reminds us that humans are most sensitive to sounds in the 2,500 to 3,500 hertz range, which just happens to coincide with the range of most bird song.
Of course, to complete our perfect soundscape, we would also weave in other wild life and insect sounds, and perhaps the distant bubbling of a gentle stream (but not too loud or too close, as fast rushing water can actually be disturbing.
Since most of us don’t live in such an ideal natural soundscape, what’s to be done? Must we just endure the noise we live with, or can we improve the situation?
The first thing I suggest is to spend a day at home simply listening. Most of us are so habituated to the noise around us that we just tune out. So try tuning in by turning off your TV and stereo. Pay attention for a whole day to what kinds of sounds you hear. When is it the noisiest? Are there periods of quiet? Do you hear any natural sounds like birds, water, or wind in the trees, or is there only harsh, manmade sound?
Your new awareness may inspire you to work on your sound environment. For instance, consider double paned windows and sound muffling drapes if traffic or noisy neighbors are intrusive. If you have the space for a garden, plant shrubs, flowers and trees that attract birds. Consider adding water features. According to classical feng shui principles, water must be correctly placed, so you may want to engage the services of a feng shui consultant for this. And at night, do everything possible to create deep quiet in your bedroom. Some people even install a master switch that shuts off all the electricity in the house at night. If you do this you may be astonished and delighted by the silence of an electronics free environment.
Once you begin to pay attention to the sound of your living environment as well as the look and feel of it, endless possibilities open up for improving your situation. And who among us couldn’t use a little more peace and harmony?