Journal: Reflections on ‘Deep Listening to Nature’ by Andrew Skeoch

Website by Jazz Andrews

My name's Jazz, I'm a human just like you. Alive for a brief flash in this incredible universe.

July 13, 2023

I want to share a passage with you from the book ‘Deep Listening to Nature‘ by Andrew Skeoch that I found particularly moving, and which I feel is a dharma teaching.

You can buy the book directly from Andrew on his website here:

I bought a copy of this wonderful book recently, on the recommendation of a teacher in my sangha and have found it be one of the most incredible books I’ve ever read.

It’s already led me to take up birding as a hobby and develop a fascination with the birds in my backyard and with the bushland around where I live. More than that it’s opened my mind to a whole new world of what it means to listen and be in nature, that I’d never felt connected to in the same way prior (even though I literally grew up in a rainforest!).

Anyway, on to the excerpt. To get the whole context of this you’d need to read several pages of the book. So to be able to make sense of what I want to share I’ll need to paraphrase some of the chapter preceeding. I’ll try to be succinct.

The chapter in question sees the author, Andrew Skeoch, travelling to Uluru (with permission from Aboriginal custodians), to record the sounds of birds and other creatures in the area. Upon arriving he discovers a strong wind which would make recording difficult.

Feeling dejected he decides to explore the area anyway, to get a feel for it and so starts walking around. He eventually comes to a narrow valley between cliffs in Kata Tjuta where he sits with the wind gusting all around him:

“Kata Tjuta is a deeply sacred place for local Anangu People. I began wondering whether the wind was trying to tell me something. I began to question my motivation in being there. By making recordings, wasn’t I exploiting the land the way white fellas so often do? Wasn’t I taking from nature to produce a commercial product? Maybe the spirits of the land, if they existed as the Aboriginal people understood them, didn’t want me there. Perhaps the wind was giving me a message that I wasn’t welcome”

Andrew then sits with the wind and listens. He questions his own motivations more and looks into his own heart. He eventually comes to this point:

“Maybe, instead of not being here, the tricky conditions were an invitation to be more here. All that morning I’d been telling myself there was nothing worthwhile to record. Now I wondered if I’d been missing something all along. I began listening more closely, really giving it my full attention.”

Through this listening, Andrew begins to appreciate the sound of the wind itself, and to wonder how this wind had shaped the rocks around him over millennia. He then begins to hear the faint sounds of bird song weaving through the roar of the wind:

“To my surprise, here was a whole landscape I’d been unaware of. I switched on my microphones, and for the next hour delighted in the smallest of acoustic details.”

Andrew then goes on to describe how this experience changed the act of listening for him:

“Even at the time, I was aware of a different quality of listening that morning. Previously I’d been thinking in terms of species, with the aim of obtaining clear recordings to represent the biodiversity of an environment…

As the wind whipped across the landscape that day, I had concluded that turning on the mics, or even listening particularly, would be a waste of time. In the process of assuming this, I tuned out from what was actually happening around me…

…the significance of that morning was not really about sound, it was my lack of attention. I was surprised at how easily I lapsed into a lazy awareness, and how surprising it felt to reclaim my attention.”

Listening back to his recordings, Andrew discovers that he’d captured something that he didn’t realise at the time. He discovered that he could hear:

“… the voices of the birds shaped by the landforms among which they lived. I could hear the vastness of the landscape, the hard, reverberant quality of the rocks, and the sparse, distributed populations of birds. The environment in which these species lived was vividly audible.”

And then this next bit was what really struck me:

“For the first time I was hearing the world as integrated, rather than a collection of discreet voices or species. I was listening to the physical landscape, the weather conditions, and the acoustic context of the place. I was hearing rocks and sky as much as feathers and song…

…I discovered that it was my expectations that inhibited authentic and deep listening. By ‘authentic’, I mean simply hearing what was around me without preconceptions…

Pursuing this way of listening not only influences one’s state of being for the better, it also supports a different perception of the natural world, one in which relationships and interconnections become more apparent. I’ve mentioned previously how we conceptually separate the world into objects. This was the first occasion that attentive listening allowed me to ‘put the world back together’.”

How incredible is that? Hearing those words made me realise how much I yearn to ‘put the world back together’. To have that experience that Andrew has written about here.


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