“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.”
Almost everything we do in our lives creates noise. We cook, we make noise. We build we make noise. We create we make noise. We connect through conversation we make noise. We live in a world that is so noisy all the time that we find discomfort in silence. We fill the silence in our lives by consuming in excess. We consume products and people and television and food in such excess that often we don’t even notice we are doing. We are taught to be afraid of it as if something might lurk in it, like the shadows on the wall in the middle of the night.
But the natural world is different. The natural world is for the most part very quiet. So quiet you can hear each sound as if it was the only sound in the world. If you stand in the bush you may hear the buzzing of the native bee, or the call of the galah. But behind you the great eucalyptus continues to grow in silence.
Over the past six years I have developed a love of silence and solitude – a space in my own mind and body that I was afraid of for most of my youth. Afraid that I would have to hear my own voice in my head. Afraid of the words that my subconscious had for me. Afraid of having to remember the things that had happened before, of past pain my mind would force me to relive. But as a got older I made peace with my past and I found acceptance in the things I cannot change and began to live a life without fear (of myself).
There is great resilience in each and every one of us. And that resilience lies deep inside us – in the quietest part of our mind. We have to be willing to stop and accept the thoughts that come for what they are – thoughts. The thoughts do not define the thinker. The strength lies on the other side. Thoughts are just voices, and when we learn to accept them but not dwell on them, we get to let them come and then we get to let them go. When we don’t fight them or feed them, the grow quieter. My voices are whispers these days, particularly the damaging ones. Whispers of lives that I once lived, whispers of old relationships and heartaches, whispers of self doubt and denial… they are still present, but they no longer have the same control over me.
For me when I discovered the power of active meditation – meditation through movement – I discovered a key to healing in my own mind. I first truly discovered it when I was living in Indonesia. Village life was not quiet by any means – the gaggle of the market place, the crowded village, the neighbours living on top of one another, but living in between language and translation allowed me to find a quiet place in my mind. A quiet place in the jungle. A quiet place in the waves. And through that I found great healing. I experienced some of the most traumatic events in my life in that village – and yet I was healed because I had learned to feel the emotions but let go of the story. I had learned not to be afraid of my own emotions but not to let them poison my thoughts. It’s a delicate balance of give and take, like the gentle flow of breath.
Bo and I escape the noise of life as often as possible, sometimes we do it simply by hiking in the dunes by the beach for an afternoon other times its for weekends away from technology and other people and other distractions. Reconnecting with the natural world with our feel in the sand or the damp earth and hard rock of the forest under our boots. Last weekend it was at a buddhist centre in the bush, a communal space shared by a lot of families who had come together for a wongkur – a buddhist family service on the dharma of generosity.
Life isn’t silent with a small child. In fact quiet is very hard to come by. But it’s not the noise that surrounds me that really matters any more – it’s the noise inside my head. Mindfulness practice has helped me so much in this regard. Understanding how to let go of ego and the power of my mind. Understanding how to accept the mind and let go of the need to talk when silence is what is needed most (and vice versa of course).
At the end of the day mindfulness (first learned by watching my muslim friends practice their faith and later following a more secular buddhist path) has taught me one thing that changed my life. There is only one thing that defines us in our existence on this planet and it’s not at all what we are told. It’s so simple. It’s just what you do. It’s what you do when things go wrong. It’s what you do to yourself. It’s what you do for other people. It’s what you do for your community. It’s your choice to act (or not act) in times of crises. We aren’t defined by what we have or how we dress or even the societal pressures that are so desperate to box us in. We aren’t defined by the words we use for ourselves.
Simply, the only thing that we ever own is our actions. Everything else is just glitter. Sparkly stuff that if we aren’t careful just might distract us from what is really important in this life.
It’s what we do that matters and to begin to ‘do’ mindfully starts in only one way…
It starts with a moment of silence.