There is silence and there is silence.
The silence of suppression, of secrets, of stealth, of connivance, of intimidation.
Of apathy, indifference, and schadenfreude.
Of incurable trauma at eyeing wanton carnage and wholesale destruction when the guns cease-fire.
Of stifled pain and unhinged minds which most of us do not give a second’s thought to and cringe from if we do.
Of a headache in the heart.
Of ravine loneliness that makes the heart a wilderness.
Our shirking of responsibility when we do not take a stand against any form of injustice and cruelty makes our silence acceptance; which makes more than a statement about the desensitized life so many of us are living. For although idolizing self-interest has been around a good while, it is now that we are living in separate bubbles based on cell phones, text messages, emails and social media which ironically are dumbing down authentic reaching out to each other and adumbrating that life beyond ourselves bears little scrutiny since what matters is gratifying our material needs.
No doubt these are the sounds of a nefarious silence as insidious as the proverbial slithering snake in the grass. Consequently, silence is not always golden. Yet given the duality of nature and our being, there are also many uplifting silences.
Of resonating togetherness.
Of a loving look that needs no utterance.
Of a wordless caress.
Of early morning stillness heralding a new day.
Of the strangely quiet, pregnant air that lingers when birds stop singing. or bells stop ringing, or a song comes to end.
Of night’s starry embrace bidding adieu to the day, hushing us to sleep.
Of the afterglow segueing making love.
It doesn’t take much thinking to realise that the damning sounds of silence last much longer than the silences that bless.
Unless we seek the soul-balming serenity born out of interiorized stillness which I so firmly believe we need to re-discover, possibly discover in a world long binging on incessant cacophony, particularly for urbanites, though today’s tentacular wired world encroaches upon many a remote expanse. Distancing ourselves from the rhythms of nature is taking its toll.
Admittedly it’s convenient to blame the hectic pace of our lives and our increasing dependence on technology that is generating a cyber civilization. (Time, if ever, will tell how actually civilized it will turn out to be).
What is not convenient is to point blame fairly at ourselves because many of us are terrified of the kind of silence that compels us to look inwards and are too scared to admit it. It takes courage to confront our naked selves because truth hurts. And being honest with ourselves does not come easy for we often fear our inner thoughts, hate admitting mistakes and shy away from the need to change. The odds are also against us because we live in a world where dissecting honesty is often equated with being a loser. (I tackle other aspects of the need to appraise ourselves in another article entitled ‘Not just the elephant in the room’).
As understandable as this fear is, recoiling from self-reflection festers self-denial and inhibits self-growth and recreation of self. Call me facetious, but I prefer recreation to reinvention because there is something spiritual about the notion of creation as against the man-made inference of invention, though the power of imagination spurring invention has more than a touch of the divine.
I will be stating the obvious (and there’s an avalanche of this) if I had to delve about how gazing at lapping or pounding waves or an amble in nature helps to flush away the cobwebs and rejuvenates the spirit because proximity with the elemental leads to meeting our elemental selves. Hence, the power of contemplation and tranquility that soothes the body, mind, and soul. But there are enough rhapsodies about this.
What I would like to spotlight is how interiorised silence – better known as tranquility – takes a singular violence to attain. At first, this sounds totally contradictory because tranquility immediately associates with calm, quiet and stillness. And rightly so, since the root meaning of tranquility is trans quietus, Latin for across quiet.
So how does violence enter the picture? It’s thanks to an Italian friend of mine (an etymology expert) who taught me that the Latin quietus derives from keimai, the Greek word for ice. Now if we leap into glacial, we soon realise that it takes the hardness, the coldness and the stillness of Siberian permafrost to look inwards with bare bone honesty. No easy step that becomes more and more challenging when we start tearing off the layers of masks and veneers which constitute our comfort zones and vicarious lives.
Hence the stillness, the contemplation and the violence necessary to enable us to see our simple (not simplistic) elemental selves, question and probe our long-held notions and attitudes. To fish out our intimate selves and assess the starkness of what we see. Hence the need to press pause if we want to sort ourselves out, fill a gnawing void and/or take a more fulfilling road down life’s journey. Think about how the incredible delicacy and beauty of water lilies depends entirely on growing in stagnant water.
As I am writing this piece. I am looking at some stunning photos of autumn’s colours which friends living in the States and northern Europe have been sharing with me. The incredible blaze of russet and gold never fails to amaze me primarily because there is no such autumn in the Mediterranean. Also, because they project such a spurt of energy before winter’s blight overwhelms and denudes; but which will eventually resurrect in spring and frolic in the summer.
I think the seasonal shifts trace what we attain from interiorizing silence.
We do not have to be existential brooders to feel the need to get away from the noise, the chaos and the humdrum of daily life. In fact, its magnetic force cannot be ignored. Those who refuse to stop and take stock of their lives are likely to end up running from themselves by clinging to some sort of addiction or illusion or both. Which is like running on the spot and never being comfortable in your own skin. I often wonder whether highly visible tattoos are just a fad. To me, these intricate images ultimately reveal a hiding from, a negation of self. Perhaps I am reading too much into this trend, but I have always regarded the frivolity of fashion as the outer layer of a much more incisive social comment.
Another important thing about interiorised silence and serenity is that for all to work we cannot hope to find some sort of panacea to our angst. It often happens that we ask questions when we know perfectly well that there are no answers. Far from being a waste of time, I think that taken with the right spirit, questioning ourselves and everything else in our lives leads to a letting go that is neither cowardly nor resignation, but rather an acceptance of our limitations. Think of the stress ebbing out of your body when you let your arms hang palm outwards. Also, the kind of letting go when creating something takes over and you recede further and further into its shadows while relishing your handiwork that recreates yourself. Besides, we keep on asking questions because we are only human. After all, asking ‘why?’ is the million-dollar question since it combines the imprint of personal demons and the impact of the zeitgeist.
Cocooning in stillness and calm helps us to realise that interiorised silence fuels the point of take-off, the ongoing journey, and our destination. As I said earlier, we do occasionally need to get away from it all to take stock, but we also need to do so frequently in our daily lives. When I used to teach I would once in a while start a lesson by referring to a headline or reading a quote from the Bible, Rumi, Hesse’s Siddhartha or the Bhagavad Gita or whatever I happened to have heard or read and highlighted to share with the class. We’d spend a few minutes in perfect silence absorbing the words. Sometimes followed by a discussion. Sometimes not. I believe that doing something like this at home and at work brings people together in a meaningful way.