My favorite way to listen to On Being, the weekly NPR show on spirituality, is by waking early enough on a Sunday morning that I can listen to it in bed or as I slowly wake my way around my apartment – making tea and petting my dog. And I am so thankful there is a podcast. There are so many wonderful and incredibly powerful episodes serve as inspiration and lesson to me – some of my favorite shows/subjects are: Desmond Tutu, the Poetry of Rumi, Parker Palmer, String Theory…
One episode that has impacted me deeply is an interview with acoustic biologist Katy Payne (because, first of all, I learned there is such a thing as acoustic biology). In the 1960s, Payne was one of the first people to understand that humpback whales communicate through song and that their songs are always changing. That is, that non-human animals are creative too. More recently Payne also revealed that elephants communicate over great distances through sound that is beyond the realm of human hearing. She ‘discovered’ these facts by ‘simply’ listening. I believe her experience of listening perfectly expresses the wonder and beauty always around us, which we may or may not be able to witness – depending on our ability to pay attention.
A few years ago Payne became interested in elephants and asked for permission to sit in the Seattle Zoo for a week to observe them. After a few days, she noticed that she was “feeling over and over again a throbbing in the air, a change of pressure in [her] ears that would occur when she was near the elephant cages but not when she was in other parts of the zoo” – she realized that because there is sound below the pitches of sound that humans can hear that there was a whole other level of communication that was happening below our frequencies. She described the air as thrilling, shuddering, or throbbing.
Imagine! She was feeling a sound vibration that no one else really paid attention to and that unlocked for Western science a whole other level of communication of these giant and great teachers. Now, I’m sure indigenous people have been aware of this elephant frequency for millennia, but what about us? Me? Poor disembodied person that I am. Stuck in my head; what am I not paying attention to? What frequencies am I not sensing? What wonders of nature, of animals, of other humans am I missing? Since hearing this podcast I have frequently reflected and meditated with this experience of deep listening. Listening with the body.