Brian Wilcox. 'a Tree being a Tree'
The Sage was sitting outside his little hut and enjoying a cup of tea under the shade of an old oak draped in the fresh, green garb of springtime leafage. The day was radiant and warm. The sound of bird-song filled the air. The Sage's face shone with serenity. A seeker approached him, having a sober countenance, unlike the beaming sunlight. The Sage welcomed him to sit down. The Sage was silent, smiling, peering into the brilliant sky at birds flying high above, clouds moving, and feeling the breeze on his skin. The man, uncomfortable with the silence, began talking, asking a question.
"Can you help me to attain the Noble Silence?"
"No, I can't," said Sage, still smiling and peering into the sky.
"Why?" came the agitated reply.
The Sage, now looking at the visitor, said, "It's unattainable."
The visitor was confused. "Meaning what?"
Ignoring the question, the Sage questioned, "Where do you think you might find this Noble Silence?"
"I guess from deep within me. That's what I've been told, to go within. If I do that, I hear that I'll escape the noise and find peace."
"Well, I've gone there" said the Sage. "I spent years going deep within. I tasted the silence deeply."
"And?" asked the man.
"I found the noise is within, while the Silence is everywhere."
* * *
At evening mealtime I usually eat alone, silently, in my third-floor room in the Quaker community house where I live. Community members and the other renter eat together this once daily. I have eaten alone for many years, and I like the quietness and solitude. I often hear the others talking and laughing two floors below. That is good, I know they are enjoying themselves. So, I am glad for them and their joy, and for my enjoying the quiet alone in my room.
Yesterday, however, I decided to eat with the others. We enjoyed the meal, and I engaged in our eating, talking, and laughter. The food and fun were delicious. I recognized, however, that I was still in silence.
After the meal, while we all were still seated at table, I looked at the other renter, who sat to my right, whom I had given the book Silence to, written by Thich Nhat Hanh. Looking at each other, I began pressing with my right hand the plastic water bottle, crushing it, and saying slowly as it made a loud noise and with a mischevious smile, "That's silence." Doing this, it would take up less room in the recyclables. I did this, also, for the humor, the playfulness of it. The act and words were a comical allusion to the book Silence. In this, I was saying, "Yes, this noise cannot annul the silence. Silence remains. Silence is here."
We all laughed, continuing our delightful joyfulness. However, the beloved dog, Eddie, the Great Dane of the house, he did not find this humorous at all. He ran out of the room quickly and refused to come near me, even though I spoke sweetly to him. I felt remorse that the crushing of the bottle was noise-without-silence to him, that I had disturbed him. I will not crush plastic bottles around Eddie anymore.
* * *
We cannot attain silence, for the simple reason that silence is already present. Sound happens within silence; silence does not happen, it is the environs for sound to happen. Before you say a word, what is present?
When we have nurtured intimacy with silence within, at some point we sense silence everywhere. This knowing, this sense, becomes our natural environment. Sound and noise arise and dissolve within it, but is not the environment. Finally, silence just is, meaning we no longer consciously feel it, except maybe on occasion, though we feel it always. This is like holding your breath in on an inhale. After a time you breathe out, you feel that strongly. Yet, we do not go around consciously aware of breathing. If breathing stopped, we would become aware quickly. Breathing is natural, it does not call attention to itself, so silence. However, when returning initially to remember the natural silence, we feel it strongly. I recall when I began meditating, I felt it strongly in consciousness, even as I felt it leave quickly outside those set-aside times. Now, the shift from the time in intentional silence and outside it, this is alike, a seamless whole.
But that silence is everywhere, this does not mean we do not need to go within for silence. Most of us have been so flooded with noise that we must go within for a time, maybe for years, before we know it to be everywhere. Our brain, our nervous system - our whole body - has to be retaught the reality of silence. To sense the silence means the readjustment of the body to its natural union with the Quiet.
Even after we live in the silence, we will likely sense the need for daily time in silence, alone or with others, or both. We may call this meditation, or not. We may not call it anything. We do this to nurture openness and receptivity to the Quiet, to Grace. We do this, also, for it is good for us, mentally, physically. In this time we can express our religious devotion, engage a meditation practice of our choice, or simply relax and welcome the joy of being and how the silence calms and heals. Silence is healing, is restorative.
* * *
After over 25 years of daily time alone in silence, I still feel the need for this intentional quiet time daily. Often, I have more than one such extended time. I, moreover, have shorter times, maybe a minute or a few minutes. I like to savor silence before and after eating, and quiet while eating. When I drive, I drive without any sounds to distract, only being quiet, being one with the movement. I like walking as exercise, again no entertainment such as music, the enjoyment of body moving, feet touching ground, and the sounds and the sights are enough, joyful to be with. I like to feel the flow of the body, the coolness or warmness of the breeze, and the sounds of birdsong, traffic, or to hear or see the greetings of others whom I cross paths with on the Way. That is, in silence, I find intimacy, closeness with Life, and that is pleasing, truly wonder-full.
As in the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, in Silence, "To fully experience this life as a human being, we all need to connect with our desire to realize something larger than our individual selves." Walking silently, this wonder is the gift of Life, the miracle that calls us to come close to itself, to Love. Then, we discover Love is, we are Love, and we are surrounded by this modest, gentle quietness. We find, at last, serenity is here, now, and that when we feel separated from peace, we can quiet ourselves by returning to ourselves, to the environment we are part of, we can return to peace, for peace has gone nowhere, silence remains. We are, again, moored to Life, by Life. What a gift!
Brian Wilcox. 'Illuminations'
(C) Brian Wilcox, 2020