Retreating to silence

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated February 3, 2013 – 12:00am

It is a noisy world we live in. Especially if you live in a part of Metro Manila where the sound of cars engines, tricycles, horns, sirens, construction and the general noise of life is quite evident. I notice that even when people are walking the streets late at night, they talk to each other loudly — loud enough to be heard through the window of my bedroom, which is beside the street. And yes, they are loud enough to disturb my calm before I go to sleep.

I am also sure that most of you, dear readers, have had your experience with unwanted karaoke singers who love hearing their echo-y voice traveling through the night and keeping you from sleep. That is probably the most irritating of all.

When I am in Australia, I experience quite the opposite. I hardly hear cars passing. When I do, the sound is quite muted. People do not blow their horns nor play their car stereos loud. They don’t drive at very high speeds in the villages. Neighbors are generally quiet — too quiet — sometimes you don’t even know if they are home. There are also no roosters crowing in the morning. Even dogs do not seem to bark at night.

Because of the silence, I am more likely to notice the sound coming from a dripping faucet, or the light, shaking noise a closed door makes when constant wind blows on it. That’s how silent it can get. As a result, I get great sleep almost every night. In the mornings, I wake up when I am ready to awaken. No unwanted noise jolts me out of bed. I often wake up after an 8-hour sleep to the soothing, happy chirping of birds.

But wherever one resides, there is noise to contend with for sure. Even in Australia, strange as it may seem, they also complain of noise pollution. I read a study somewhere that almost all over the world, noise is escalating. As life gets faster and more modern, it is inevitable.

There are the other kinds of chatter that hound our lives in the course of the day. Facebook, Twitter, cell phones, texts, social media, television, advertising, office deadlines, meetings, obligations, petty conversations constantly engage us and bombard us with information even if many are unwanted and not needed. Everyone and everything is vying for our attention.

Since when did life get so noisy and hectic? I don’t recall it being like this some 20 years ago. There were clearly more spaces for silence then. Not anymore.

I know quite a number of people who don’t seem to think all this noise is an issue. There is this theory that frogs can live and adjust without noticing their water habitat getting warmer until they just snap and reach their boiling point. Maybe some people are just like frogs. They unconsciously adjust to the noise. They are not aware how much it is affecting them till they reach their breaking point.

We all need periods of silence for our own sanity and a better quality of life. But with the way life is going these days, we must really make efforts to have those quiet moments where we can enjoy some respite from busy-ness and also wipe clean the dust of the world that constantly accumulates in our minds and spirits. We need to detox from mindless noise and engagement. We need to occasionally detach ourselves from the demands of the world.

You can’t always find a quiet place, or drop everything and retreat to some ideal Shangri-La somewhere. But you can go to a place within yourself where you can have your silent sanctuary. You can do yoga, meditation, long walks, Zen, exercise, and a host of other activities. The idea is to immerse yourself in a singularly focused activity or practice. That is all you do, and as you do it, you become present to everything that is happening, and also to what is not happening. And even when nothing seems to be happening, there is really a lot actually going on. I have learned that by simply engaging in the practice of being present, it is already doing me some good.

When you learn to quiet your mind, you learn to leave all concerns behind, and your wandering thoughts and feelings that normally control you begin to lose their power. You simply watch them come and go. Emotions and anxieties and other frantic states fade away and become benign and distant. This momentary freedom becomes the only thing that matters. And it feels physically and spiritually liberating.

I have been meditating for more than 14 years now, even if off and on. Let me tell you that meditation is one of the very few things that continues to keep me grounded especially in this crazy showbiz world I often live in. Without this practice of going inward, I would have fallen on the deep end of extreme ego aggrandizement long ago and gotten stuck there for good.

When the meditation is good, it is amazing. When it is not so good, it is still good. When you have been doing any practice for sometime, you will notice that you have easier access to the door of the sacred space and it gets easier to go in and out of it.

Meditation brings you to ground zero, the solid, unchanging reality where everything, including our own lives arise and play out. The difference is, we are present as witnesses and spectators. Life is fleeting. We begin to see and accept reality without our ego insisting it should dictate how things should be. The net effect is we begin to learn to stop judging and clinging to the world by simply surrendering to the arising moment. We discover peace in the stillness.

In meditation, I often feel wide-eyed, alive, and connected to everything. I have this feeling of wholeness, oneness and gratitude. The world is a wondrous place. There isn’t a moment or a thing that is not living, breathing and trying to connect with me on some level or capacity. Everywhere I look, on my left and right, top and bottom, I see life unfolding, rivetingly playing out and affirming life itself and my part in it. There are no hierarchies of importance. Everything rocks! Everything matters.

The felt experience is, I am IT and IT is I. I am the event and witness, spectacle and spectator, the experience and the one who experiences. I do not need anything to complete me. I am already whole. There is nothing outside of me. And all this is all there is. There is only awesome aliveness here.

This activity is my antidote to the endless noise and chatter so common in everyday life. Noise can lull us to boredom and sleep, while silence so deep and encompassing which we can only find inside us can roar so loud it can awaken us completely to life.

* * *

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