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Saturday, 9 June 2012

Walking in the Woods

 From Life on Mars

I enjoyed reading the this article,  Why is walking in the woods so good for you?, the essence of which is that walking in the woods lowers heart rate, increases concentration, improves the immune system and develops one's inner core of human decency.

The piece also ties in with how we attend to the world, and the way in which a natural forest environment doesn't overwhelm our senses with man-made shapes, noises and smells. Instead a fine mist of woodland oils, fragrances and the sound of birdsong meet the calming needs of our lizard brains.

And as we look up at the trees and wonder at the shifting patterns of leaves, so we take in the colours and fractal patterns that have a calming anti-depressant effect (in contrast to the hard edges and synthetic tones of high-end urban architecture).

Research shows something similar is true of photography, and that landscapes elicit an emotional response from viewers in much the same way that pictures of bananas do in baboons.

Another story that captured my attention was this one on the Quietest place in the world.

This was a place where the room is so quiet that almost nobody can stand the quiet for more than a few minutes, the ideas being that an artificial emptiness is unnerving, unnatural and somehow poses a threatto us.

I wonder if this is related to the sense of disorientation we feel in white cube  art galleries (my daughter told me the other day, "I like museums where you can run around and make noise but not galleries. Everyone's quiet. It's like a church. It's creepy."). And if that disorientation and sensory deprivation affects our judgement in some way.

The extract below is from the story - the writer liked the extreme quiet in the end, but I think he's an exception.

I had heard being in an anechoic chamber for longer than 15 minutes can cause extreme symptoms, from claustrophobia and nausea to panic attacks and aural hallucinations – you literally start hearing things. A violinist tried it and hammered on the door after a few seconds, demanding to be let out because he was so disturbed by the silence.

I booked a 45-minute session – no one had managed to stay in for that long before. I felt apprehensive for two reasons: would I go stark, staring mad and tear off my clothes? Or would I simply be disappointed it wasn't as enjoyable as I'd hoped?

When the heavy door shut behind me, I was plunged into darkness (lights can make a noise). For the first few seconds, being in such a quiet place felt like nirvana, a balm for my jangled nerves. I strained to hear something and heard… nothing.

Then, after a minute or two, I became aware of the sound of my breathing, so I held my breath. The dull thump of my heartbeat became apparent – nothing I could do about that. As the minutes ticked by, I started to hear the blood rushing in my veins. Your ears become more sensitive as a place gets quieter, and mine were going overtime. I frowned and heard my scalp moving over my skull, which was eerie, and a strange, metallic scraping noise I couldn't explain. Was I hallucinating? The feeling of peace was spoiled by a tinge of disappointment – this place wasn't quiet at all. You'd have to be dead for absolute silence.


Stan B. said...

Someone gearing up for an extended holiday?

colin pantall said...

You got it!