I claim artistic or literary license when choosing the title for today’s ramble. I’ve pondered the topic of silence many times on this blog so this might be at least the ninth time doing so. Plus, I like the backhanded allusion to “Revolution Number Nine” by the Beatles. I also love irony, because “Silence Number Nine” is the polar opposite of “Revolution Number Nine” and its cacophony of sounds and noises.
Shortly after midnight, yet another thunderstorm roared through town and disturbed my slumber. I got out of bed and booted up my tablet in order to consult the NOAA app on the device. The map showed a short squall line passing through the area. There were a couple of fading red splotches directly over Norfolk, Nebraska. The images were heading towards the northeast while continuing to dissipate.
I resisted the temptation to check email, then powered down the tablet and padded back to bed. The lightning was becoming less frequent and the thunder faded away. I drifted contentedly back to sleep.
Upon awakening, I basked in the silence of the early morning. Later, I stepped outdoors to take in the clean, fresh air. There was no breeze, no distant traffic noise, even the omni-present, mysterious very-low-frequency hum that usually comes from the west was absent. I savored this precious silence while waiting for the coffee to brew. Then an air conditioning compressor next door switched on and drowned out the early morning paradise.
Silence is a rare commodity in today’s world. The sounds of civilization even intrude into the wilderness. Traffic on a road can be heard in the distance. Sometimes a slight rumble from a high-flying jet airplane slices into the calm. Even in the rare absence of such noise, there is the ubiquitous chattering of the monkey mind as we talk to ourselves without moving our lips.
There is the rare, special silence of the mind that occurs when thought stops and analysis of one’s surroundings pauses. The mind is not even aware of the silence. Nor does it remember past instances of similar silences. There is no internal dialogue. The silence is cut short when the conscious mind takes note of it.
Such silence can be coaxed to come near by practicing obscure, arcane meditation techniques. Such silence attained in this manner is superficial and not complete. Regardless of one’s meditation skill-level, there will always be some modicum of thought occurring. There will sometimes occur the illusion of totality with the Universe, yet that is also a mental construct.
The particularly rare mental silence is tranquil and defies definition. The moment one attempts to categorize it, the tranquility vanishes and the monkey mind speaks up again. If this happens during formal meditation, the sitter reverts to utilizing a technique to pay attention to thoughts and let go of them. The sitter becomes aware that she/he is playing a mental game of chasing the silence. The wise meditator accepts the vanity of the chase while continuing to pay attention to thoughts and the breath.
Silence is not a command non-performance because the mental acrobatics required are a performance. The exercise of letting go requires mental activity. Such silence can only be approximated in negative terms. There is no recognition. There is no definition. There is no physical nor mental verbalization. There is no recording nor recollection of thought. Even the word “silence” is not silence, because it is mentally spoken when we see it written or it comes to mind.
There is no analysis because the mind requires words in order to analyze. There are no conscious mental processes at play in this particular silence, yet the mind is fully, wordlessly aware. One could say it is a mental balancing act, but this requires analysis via language.
The thinking mind operates through learned words and sensory concepts. Without them we cannot think in the conventional sense. It is the absence of these aspects that allows us to conceptualize this rare mental silence. However, this conceptualization can only hint at silence because the conceptualization is based upon sensory imagery and words.
What more can I say about silence? After all, these words are just mental chattering.