I think of my reading as drawing water from some bottomless, timeless well. In goes the bucket. The rope slides through my hands. I’m sitting on the couch in the living room, the French press on the coffee table, a book open in my lap, a chipped mug balanced on my knee. The city is asleep all around me. The sun is asleep beyond the earth’s curve. And now up comes a cherry tree in blossom, the tolling of a distant bell, a burning stick of incense, a small man in a wooden boat on a perfectly calm lake at dusk. The images are plain and clear, refreshing. I drink deeply, then lower the bucket for more.
Leath Tonino, A Quiet Subversion – Tricycle
The past month, I have become acutely aware of how much silence there is in my life. Being an introvert has helped me not become too bothered by it, but it is there. It’s become unavoidable. My daughter has been spending more time with her mother this month and it’s left a void in my home. Gone are the countless questions and her insatiable curiously about what I am doing and whether she can help. Gone are the sounds of her favourite shows playing on Netflix1 that normally play while I prepare meals or we wait for our swimming pool to warm in the sun. All that’s left is silence.
My hiking activities the past few months have taken me to less travelled parts of Kelowna. Partly focused on improving my fitness levels, partly to discover new sights and sounds, these hikes have put me in situations where I need to be more alert about wild life. Because of the potential run-ins with black bears or cougars, my headphones have been left out of my ears. Moving away from my car and the roadways brings me to places where sounds are infrequent. No cars, no people talking, and hardly any sounds from birds or squirrels. Just silence.
In those moments at home or out hiking, I recognize the silence and enjoy it for what it is: a time to reconnect with my body. I can hear my heart beating in my chest while breathing heavily after climbing up a steep hill. I can hear myself yawn deeply when waking up or my stomach rumbling with hunger. I don’t feel the need to fill that space with noise, whether it’d be the television or music, but instead I take it in and appreciate it.
But on the other hand, I’m also becoming more aware of what isn’t there. My daughter, obviously, but also the lack of notifications buzzing from my phone or noise coming from the pool area or hallways. I’m left to my own devices to choose how that absence of sound is to be filled rather than struggling to block out, filter, or add to the layers of sound. I almost always choose to keep the silence- quietly wishing my phone would buzz more often.
At home, I eventually cave and replace the aural silence with visual noise, however. Scanning over news feeds, Twitter, Instagram, and so forth, I keep my brain stimulated on a modern loop of information, a constant bounce between apps and sites. Not to ensure I don’t miss something, but to keep something there. In my visual field, in my head.
Until now, that loop has been operating fine. What changed, I don’t know, but there’s a growing restlessness and unhappiness with this current loop. I couldn’t pinpoint the problem until I started to browse through Tricycle, the Zen Buddhist publishing site, and found Leath Tonino’s piece.
He starts each day in silence, reading ancient Chinese poetry while having a cup of coffee. He doesn’t read news sites, Facebook, Twitter, etc. When he asked himself whether he was in the loop with current events, his response made me pause.
[Reading poetry is] a bigger loop, an older loop, a far more stable and enduring loop. Dating back 3,200 years, the Chinese poetic tradition represents the longest continuous literary movement in world history.
Am I in the wrong loop? Is it that important for me to be aware of what is happening instead of discovering the older, wiser texts that are out there?
He writes that it is not important to seek out the ancient writings, but instead the joy in discovering that, “[you] can choose, at least to some degree, what [you] admit into that special space [you] call [yourself.]”
Choosing to be in silence is the easy part. Choosing what loop I want to allow myself to be involved in during that silence will be an ongoing challenge, but a challenge I hope I can ultimately conquer and enjoy the process of discovering the right loop to be in.
- Currently, Peppa Pig. ↩