2018 – The Art of Quietness


While chatting with a professor friend of mine at Virginia Tech one day between classes, he asked what I consider myself to be… a composer working with visual art or a visual artist working with sound. I responded that I do not want to be either. Instead I intend to be quiet and see what happens. He told me that would be a great opening line for a lecture. This brief conversation was the catalyst for this writing.

Though the suggestion is often met with contention, it is my perspective that creativity can only occur when the mind is quiet. Any other action is simply re-contextualizing that which has happened in the past… meaning it is a product of thought, which can only be of the past. Thought is a collection of memories we are constantly reorganizing. A quiet mind is alert and listening, it is ready to play with whatever comes within reach. It is a childlike state where all time and space is forgotten and all that remains is that which is present in the moment. All life’s challenges and the perceived problems we have collected as adults are absent and one is free to simply be without intention… without malice of forethought… without memory or the need to reach for gain or conclusion. From such a state of mind, anything can and will happen. It is only from such a place that personal growth and expansion can occur.

We are all extremely creative beings. The reason so many of our creations are so ugly and chaotic is that they are being constantly distorted and obscured by the thinking mind. When one’s mind is so full of the non-stop chattering and the incessant psycho-babble that pervades nearly every moment of our lives, our creativity is relegated to a dysfunctional facsimile of the beautiful expression of the light within that is its true form.

A mind that is constantly occupied cannot be clear. The duality of thought is ever at odds with itself and so can make no progress in any direction. It is simultaneously pushing and pulling in every direction and so only brief moments of movement can be experienced. Even then, in the next moment the recoil is exerted. This struggle within oneself is a serious drain and leaves one bereft of energy… it leaves one tired and unmotivated. Ultimately it is often the source of pain and illness, and the subsequent associated violence.

Nevertheless, most of the members of our current society can never risk a moment of quietness. Most of us are talking, looking at our cellphones, watching TV, arguing, postulating, reading, drinking, seeking religion or politics, and etc. The list of the ways in which we distract ourselves is immense and is constantly growing… we do anything to avoid being quiet. Often even if we are not directly watching it, many of us have the TV making noise in the background and we seem to derive some satisfaction from it. Many sleep all night with it on. We derive a feeling of security in avoiding that which we fear would come from quietness.

What is it about being quiet that frightens us so? Why do we perpetuate these endless diversions? It is as if in being quiet some dreaded fate would befall us. It is an anxiety… a deeply powerful fear that overwhelms us in the very prospect of our minds not being occupied. Certainly, being aware of the thoughts that are uncontrollably occurring in our minds can be terrifying. With such awareness we realize the insanity that we are living day to day and moment to moment. The intensity of the quieted mind, when on the rare occasion it is unexpectedly experienced, can be a shock to the nervous system and requires a body that has been cared for in a manner such that it is strong enough to sustain the resultant high level of energy being produced. Anything less results in anxiety and dread and, if experienced for extended periods of time, can result in depression and other types of manic behavior.

Quietness, however, cannot be forever avoided. Many of us experience a taste of it more often than we realize. When we are deeply focused upon working on something and suddenly realize that much time has passed unnoticed, we have been unaware of it but we have experienced a modicum of quietness within. Quietness can also occur at times of duress… for instance while sitting with a loved one whose death is imminent… or perhaps during our own illness. Often illness is good for us because we cannot continue to think in the same unrelenting patterns that we have been fixated upon, perhaps for years, because doing so directly causes us pain. There are many other ways in which we temporarily experience a hint of quietness.

Even with the intellectual and perhaps even with the experiential understanding that quietness is good for us, that it is something desirable, pursuing quietness is not quietness at all. Instead it is the thinking mind maintaining control by deciding that one can think oneself into quietness, which is the antithesis of quietness. Such a pursuit can be disquieting and can move one to neurosis. Quietness must be happened upon without conscious volition, which is merely thought in action. We must establish conditions that are conducive to quietness occurring and then allow it. This is perhaps a mental maneuver that most are not ready for, yet it is within the reach of each of us. It is something that must be developed and yet no technique can bring it about. In fact, quietness is the absence or the ending of all techniques.

The art of quietness is an all-encompassing lifestyle. It requires constant vigilance and yet it also requires letting go… it requires everything we think we have and yet it also requires nothing at all. It is the ceasing of intentionality, of desire, and of fear and yet it is a state of heightened awareness. How can one reconcile these seemingly contradictory elemental actions? The very need to reconcile them is the thinking mind in action once again.

Judgeless observation is perhaps a first step in the direction of silence. We simply observe the action of thought doing what it does without adding to it with still more thoughts that it is bad or out of control or any other mischievous perspective that thought can come up with in order to continue itself. We simply and honestly observe the movement of thought within us. In doing so, at a certain point an important question comes to mind. Who is the observer that is observing thought in action? Further, we may notice that the observer seems quiet. Now we are on the right track. As we become the observer we approach quietness. The upper levels of thought, the ceaseless internal chatter, may come to an end. Yet there is more. This is only the beginning. The roots of thought run deep. The duality of the observer and the observed is an aspect of, or a reaction to, the thinking mind. As long as this dichotomy exists, we are still tethered to thought as a growling dog might be chained to a post. We are not yet free. We are not yet quiet. At the risk of verbosity, we can imagine being the observer that is observing the observer/observed duality… on an on ad nauseam. It is like standing between two mirrors and seeing an endless line of your image in each direction. This is not freedom. It is a positive step, but it is not yet quietness. There is more to discover.

Can we become truly free of thought and so quiet? Or is thought an intrinsic aspect of our humanity at a root level and so cannot be transcended? Are there levels of quietude or is that still a game that the thinking mind is playing to maintain its delusion of control? What is beyond the observer/observed duality and how can we experience and live it? When we realize, not theoretically… not intellectually… not because of some words on a page or because an imagined authority figure tells us it is so… but when we realize through direct experience that the observer is the observed that conflicted duality comes to an end. It has reached critical mass and collapses in upon itself. The observer is a product of thought. When we observe fear in action, the observer wants to end it and the internal battle begins. The observer, which is a thought-derived sense of self… a time centric collection of ideas about who we are and what is good and bad… desirable and undesirable… right and wrong… is not separable from the fear it observes. The observer and fear are one in the same. They are both thought in action. They are opposite sides of the same coin. Clearly seeing this is the cessation of it. We have become quiet.

With this unity, we naturally act with deliberate and unfettered creativity in every aspect of our lives. Since we are not dissipating our energy in the violent cycle of duality, the observer and observed paradigm, we have a boundless capacity to attend each moment with an unprecedented clarity. This is the catalyst of a continuous process of expanding and refining… expanding and refining… expanding and refining because we have stepped into a stream of perpetual growth. This is also the burgeoning of love. We cannot truly love until we have gone beyond the observer/observed duality. That movement is all inclusively self-centric. It is only in transcending it that we can see beyond our petty desire and fear… beyond our thought-derived sense of self. It is only with this unity that we can love unequivocally. This is at once feeling loved and giving love. It is an expanding outwardly in every direction. We have become one.

We have briefly described an evolution of consciousness that is potential within each of us. As human beings, we do not have to remain mired in the aggressively violent mass consciousness that dominates the world of human endeavor. However, no social program, be it political, religious, educational, and etc., can effect a true change in this (in)human experience. It is only through a personal revolution… a revolution of the consciousness within that does not accept the current status quo… that true change may occur. It is only on a personal level that we may change the world. Through creative living, realized through the art of quietness, we may affect change. It is said that one quiet being has the power of millions of those mired in the noise. So it is.

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