By Maya Goel:
Silence is a peculiar thing. In some ways, it is like darkness. Both hide around the bend of a path we think we know.
Both are mysteries which none can solve. Few have the courage to try.
Our awe of the unknown has slowly turned into fear. Fear engenders suspicion, leading to hatred. When we do not understand something, we tend to lash out.
Self-defense is not a crime. Self-denial is. But denial is how we survive.
How can anyone’s conscience bear the weight of what humankind has done? We are all born with the burden of being human. Of having to shoulder some responsibility for what we have done as a species. Of trying to atone for a destructive existence. But we are seldom aware of this. So we go about our lives, hyper-aware of the good deeds we perform and blissfully ignoring the additive influence of little acts.
Using disposable cups and spoons. Plastic bags. Ordering a cola. A quick stop at McDonalds. Coffee at Starbucks. Food from a supermarket. Probably genetically modified and/or grown with enough pesticides to kill an entire ecosystem.
Imported fruit. Apples from New Zealand. Biscuits wrapped in aluminum-coated plastic. Excessive packaging around an expensive item.
It is impossible for a person to gauge the impact of everything they do. To know that a polyethene bag we choose to judiciously throw in the dustbin after re-using it will end up strangling a baby seal or stick inside the gut of a whale. That paper napkin we wipe our mouth with after a meal was made from the wood pulp of the last-standing tree in a mighty rain forest like the Amazon.
Or what was it like for some families to have been displaced from the only home they knew. The banks of a river which sustained them but dams had to be created for the ‘greater good’? Or how a fish must have felt in its final moments of being asphyxiated by effluents released by the factory which made the clothes we are wearing.
The list is endless. The scope for lamentation vast. The solutions meagre. In the face of helplessness, we choose optimism. Being positive is good. Think of what you can do to improve the situation.
But in all that enthusiasm we gather in setting forth to make a difference, most of us lose sight of the truth. We look at only what we want to see, listen to only what we want to hear.
Truth is subjective at the best of times because each person views the world through the lens of their experiences. So what happens to it when further filtered?
Every one of us live in denial of something: be it a traumatic memory, a sinful act, a desperate need, a baseless opinion, a clouded vision, an unfair judgement of someone else, or a misguided view of ourselves.
Take away this denial and very few would be able to keep going. It is the same shutting off the mind’s eye which allows us to perpetrate evil. The conscience cannot do anything about something it is afraid to face.
If everyone could fully grasp the reality of their actions and influences, would a man be able to murder a child? Could one civilisation annihilate another? Groups of the same people subjugate each other? A group of humans rob another group of people of their dignity, their humanity and in the process gamble away their own?
A small percentage of people cause entire species to go extinct? Thanks to the delusions of supremacy and righteousness we inflict upon ourselves, humankind has managed to wage relentless war on the planet who supports its vitality. The tragedy of it is, we’re winning the war at the cost of losing our souls. We choose existence in exchange for life.
So the big question: what can one do? First, face your reality. And if you believe you already have and are ready to move on, you haven’t.
If you’ve been flung like molecules of air in a storm between soaring on wings of hope and, drowning in the depths of despair, if you’ve looked into the cloudy swirls of gloom and not known what it meant, if you’ve loved so truly that you don’t expect anything in return, if you’ve been angry and chosen to let go, if you’ve been lost in loneliness and found comfort in your self, if you’ve hated and forgiven, if no more than a thought can make you burst into laughter or tears, if you have been burned up in the flames of passion, of feeling that is life, then you have taken the first step.
The next is understanding, through which we can release what we don’t want within ourselves.
Not by fighting it but by transcending it with acceptance and grace. Understanding ourselves, the world, and each in the context of the other. It doesn’t work like the typical mode of scientific enquiry – to form a hypothesis and test its validity through experiments.
It requires observation without the influence of preconceived notions. This is where silence comes into the picture. There is aggressive silence and peaceful silence. The former is oppressive and exists when inflicted by one on another.
Whether one is the mind and the other is the body, or one is the perpetrator, and the other, the victim. Over the ages, men have tried to silence women, masters have sought to silence their slaves, monarchs have tried to silence the ordinary people, humans have tried to silence nature.
Torturous experiments were conducted on dogs (involving nails and lethal electric shocks) by removing the animal’s vocal chords.
This does not stop the dog from feeling the pain, it prevents the scientist present from perceiving it. When silencing the voice of another, all we are doing is stuffing wax into our ears. The other still screams in its mind.
If we allow ourselves, we can hear that in our minds. To listen, we have to open all our senses. Everything must pour in. We do not judge. We do not analyse. We perceive. That’s when the other kind of silence comes in.
Consider a forest. Consider a soldier passing through. He isn’t a person, not a character. Just a role. The role of an entity who walks with the intention of killing something at the end. He wears big boots. He treads with a heavy step. As he clomps through, fearful sensations ripple outwards. His noise silences the birds. Snakes slither into their burrows where they hide until the ground stops vibrating. If the wind blows, he does not notice. He has a single purpose in mind. His surroundings do not matter. He is unaware.
This is an exaggerated example of a subtle phenomenon. If he were not a soldier, if he did not want to kill, if he were an ordinary person like you or me, as long as he remained unaware, the situation would not change.
Imagine you are aware. You are walking through the forest. Your steps are light. You carefully place one foot before the other upon the ground, as if it is sensitive to your touch. Take off your shoes; then you will be sensitive to the surface of the ground.
You are not absorbed in your own thoughts, but receptive to the sensations around you. A bird sings a song. Another whistles a tune. A third calls harshly. You cannot see any but you know they are different.
You hear a rustle, a vibration and faint flapping overhead: you look up instinctively, and a flash of vermilion darts across your vision. The combined chorus of cicadas and crickets rises to a deafening roar.
But it cannot drown out the sound of water trickling somewhere nearby; you don’t know where. Focus. It’s on your left, a few meters away. There’s too much for your eyes to take in. Stop trying so hard. Let it happen on its own. On a large scale, the fairytale sight of moss-clad magnificent trees reaching towards the open sky, arching their long branches like a protective roof, through which golden-white-yellow light is filtered into softer shades of the same and makes the young leaves look almost fluorescently bright.
A droplet of water on the tip of one is suddenly a diamond. On a smaller scale, a tiny spider patiently waiting in the centre of her intricately crafted web. A beetle in the grass. Fallen leaves everywhere. Broken down by microorganisms which cycle their nutrition back into the system. The whirr of a termite’s wings. There’s silence as a dragonfly swoops in.
The edge of the heavy atmospheric moisture’s chill filed away by the sun’s gentle warmth. The mild scent of lingering rain clouds overlaid with the dense aroma of lively humus. The smell of the fungus, not old and musty but fresh and rich. The shade of blue-green unique to lichen. The tiny white flowers of weeds which go unnoticed. A never-ending sensual torrent of energy which tells you that life is alive and beautiful. Something you would not have experienced if you were caught up in the chatter of your own mind. That is silence.
Repeat the activity on a moonless, starless night with no light and you will be overwhelmed by the stunning power of darkness. It is a part of nature. It does not exist just to balance out light but possesses a certain kind of majesty in its own right. Balance knows how to maintain itself until we jump on the scales so hard that they not only tip but break. ‘
Do not fear the darkness of the night which blinds your eyes. Fear the darkness of your mind which cripples your heart. Fear the nest which it hides. Twigs randomly, thoughtlessly collected and secretly laid there. Twigs of denial. The nest is justification. The egg is latent violence. Atrocities will hatch out of it. Fear those fiends and then overcome that fear. Shine a torch on them and you will be courageous. Dispel them by acknowledging their presence. And appreciate the value of darkness.