Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Silence

We are in a state of perpetual cognitive dissonance. We are over-saturated with media. When we access the internet, we open eight or nine tabs at a time. We are barraged with advertisements constantly. (I shudder to think of the total number of adverts I will see once I pass away. Thousands. When I go to the cinema I now take my glasses off when all the ads are screened. I also try to watch as little TV as possible.) This is post-modernity. It is loud, frenetic and disruptive - like a premature ejaculation.

I am becoming increasingly interested in the sages and ascetics of ancient antiquity. They would go to remote places, isolate themselves for decades, live frugally and engage in a conversation with 'God.' That is completely anachronistic in post-modernity.

What I think allows us to get away from this is silence. Silence allows us to distill the density of information and to focus our attention on one particular subject. It is escapist, in this sense, and also very helpful to help us focus our minds on a task.

In reality, silence is impossible. When we turn music off, avoid all distractions and put on ear plugs, we hear our heart beat, our breath and draughts. The quest for total silence is impossible to attain. This is what John Cage was getting at with his much-ridiculed conceptual piece 4'33. The piece isn't total silence. When the piece is 'performed,' the audience will make sounds. They might find the situation ludicrous - or, having spent a lot of money, 'ripped off' - and jeer. Otherwise, and this is the case now that the piece has been consecrated as part of the classical repertoire, cough and fidget in their seats in submissive reverence. The piece, then, isn't comprised of total silence. The piece consists of whatever sounds the audience makes.

Monks, mystics and ascetics slow the rate of speed they might experience as members of a society. This 'rate of speed' is particularly frenetic in free market societies. A contemporary monk, therefore, is overcoming a lot more distractions than one from antiquity. Ascetics deny their own nature. They take vows of silence, endure bodily mortification and abstain from sexual urges. Having taken complete control of their own desires, they therefore attain complete freedom.

Noise is exceedingly stressful - and ongoing. It can be escaped by visiting nature - the sea, woods, fields, etc. Here we find a serenity missing in the city. I find it necessary to do this at least on a weekly basis. Otherwise, the noise and stress of the city proves too much and I go through phases of anxiety and depression.

Silence, then, is the best conduit for introspection. It helps us to focus our attention on an isolated aspect of something. (Otherwise external noise is providing us with a something entirely different.) In post-modernity, it is also the optimal way to approximate the freedom attained by ascetics.

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