Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The advantage of silence

By Andrew French

If you repeat something over and over again, someone will believe you. This seems to be the primary strategy of the political demagogues who moan and yelp at the press in theatrical outrage or indignation about this problem or that solution. It makes me feel empty, drained, mostly because it is such a false mode of communicating and acting. In my life I have searched for truth in communication and action, and when I see such false actions and hear such lies by people who have so much power, it makes me wonder if our world will ever truly be peaceful. Why do any of us try to say what is true when there is so much nonsense floating around the world? I don’t know, and so I give up sometimes.

But I know this; Silence speaks louder then words. A picture is worth more then a thousand words, and an action is worth more then a thousand pictures. This is something that is inherently knowable by innate intuition. We can go through life talking a big talk, but then we come upon the cliff of action, and if we don’t jump off, we’ve just been on a walk in the park. And I suppose some people are fine with a walk in the park, but I want to be more alive then that. I want to be part of the park, I want to know it intimately, sink my teeth into its fruits, and dig into its dirt. I don’t know why I want to do this, I just know I do. The linear thinking of western man pressures me to want to know the ”why”, but I don’t need to pressure the world to show me the “why”. The “why” isn’t knowable exactly, it seems. It is elusive as an observed particle.

The linear, or classical, mode of thinking permeates our lives subtly, yet all-pervasively. It clouds our thinking in every aspect of our human endeavors; family, friends, home, food, work, play, rest, exercise, art, laughter, gardens, disasters. Everything is described as having a beginning, middle, and end. Everything is thought to have a cause and effect. Everything or nothing revolves around you or me. Either way, our interests are groomed to orbit our egos, be they focused on materialism or self-sacrifice. But I feel like I’ve found something better, something the mystics have known for thousands of years. It is as simple as realizing that we are all connected. I realized this tangibly while I was in the shower the other day, that we are all the same, we are all one…not just us humans, but trees, whales, the air, the sun, the stars, the rocks. It is a simple truth constantly being re-realized by sentient beings throughout the ages. Classic linear thinking would have us believe that this personal enlightenment should lead us or society somewhere, such as freeing humankind from suffering, but this is just not the case. Suffering continues in the world unabated, regardless of the amount of enlightenment that exists in its societies (how do we measure this percentage?). There are many stories of a simple man or woman realizing that he is one with everything, or a god, and leading the people to worship him as the savior of mankind. But as contagious as this meme is, it is a foolhardy misunderstanding of this reintegration of the soul with the cosmos; to worship or be worshipped is not the answer. The whole point of enlightenment is to end the suffering that the separation from everything has caused us.

I grew up in an Evangelistic Christian tradition. This is a monotheistic religion that does not recognize the subjectivity of personal experience. It has strongly affected my sense of peace in this world. Over the past years, though, I have become a Buddhist, a Hindu, a pagan, a Taoist, an atheist, an agnostic, a mystic, a permaculturalist, an idiot, a musician, a cook, a terrible friend, a backpacker, and so on. But none of these titles really matter, nor do they define my essential being in this ever present moment. My thoughts about reality and life change every moment. In every moment are ten thousand more and so on and the infinity of the present does not allow one thing to hold true. Therefore I am never really one thing, or I am forever reinventing the one thing. In the classical mind (the small mind, the ego, the linear mind) lies the seed of suffering, and in the romantic mind (the big mind, the soul, the non-linear mind) lies the fruit of freedom. I have realized that these labels are neither good nor bad, they just are what they are. In a world that is not defined by the battle between good and evil, every period of contraction has an expansionistic flipside, and that is the eternal lesson our hearts, our breath, the tides, and every living thing teaches us freely.

It is easy for me to posit that existence is the only teacher available to show us the meaning of life because I do not have faith in anything that does not exist. My friends would tell me that I obviously have faith in something greater then the sum of all things in the universe, but maybe they wouldn’t be getting my point. By existence I mean everything that exists everywhere, and by faith I mean a belief in something that does not exist, or a trust in something that is promised by someone. As far as I can tell, the only thing promised by existence is the circular cycle of being born, living, dying, and being dead. The only thing completely obvious is that time never stops. Why would I need to pretend that there is more to reality then that? Perhaps someone would say, because these few facts of life sound bleak to me. Let me tell you what sounds bleak to me.

In the general monotheistic view of existence, we each have a soul that is created by God that can either be saved or damned after our physical bodies die. In this view, right off hand our soul is separated from our body. Then we are instructed to look at life as a linear story; the soul is created, the soul makes decisions and is judged by God for them, and then is sent either to hell or heaven for eternity. This is the bleakest story I have ever heard. But its bleakness is not why I reject it as a viable reality. No, I reject it as a viable reality because I have no faith, and existence has not taught me that this is the meaning of life.

Maybe I couldn’t be so flippant about the meaning of life if I had more troubles in my life. As it is, I’m fine. I have no big troubles, and I like my work. I like where I live and I like my friends and loved ones. I’m not doing anything special and I’m not making a lot of money. But I’m excited to build a house one day out of strawbales, cob, and wood and have friends and loved ones stay with me there. I’m excited to plant a big garden and nourish myself and my partner from the vegetables we harvest there. I’m excited to see the weather change and watch plants grow. I’m pretty simple. I like playing the guitar and sleeping.

Maybe if my partner had cancer and I had children that were unruly I would be more somber and angry at existence. Maybe then I would believe that the bleakest story ever told was the meaning of life, and that my only hope for peace would be to die and go to heaven. Then, up there in heaven, I could play guitar, sleep, and watch plants grow.

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