Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Noise and silence

There's a lot of noise in my head. I don't notice it most times (mostly because I'm occupied with listening to it), but then there are those moments that I step outside of myself and I hear it.

(For Trekkers and Trekkies, it's kind of like listening in on the Borg hive mind. For those of you who have no clue what this die-hard geek is talking about, just keep reading.)

When are those moments I step outside of myself?

When I'm in a foreign country. A few years ago, I traveled alone to Italy for a friend's wedding, and on the way there, I stopped in France (Paris, to be exact). It was the first time I had been to Europe, and having a knack for languages, I taught myself enough Italian and French in three weeks to get myself into trouble! However, it was wonderful being around people who didn't think, speak, or do as I did. Even visiting enclave communities in the U.S., I still knew I was home and with the familiar; in Europe, I was definitely not in proverbial Kansas anymore. Taken outside of myself, my usual surroundings, and my self-conditioned environment, I moved out of my comfort zone and discovered my strengths, my wounds, my loves, and my intolerables. I heard myself like I hadn't for many years, and I'm still learning to listen to what I learned during that week-long vacation from routine.

When I'm meditating. I read in Walpola Rahula's book, What the Buddha Taught, that meditating wasn't doing nothing, it was the act of contemplating. There are different schools of meditation, some that seek to empty the mind, others that seek to fill it with an object of adoration, and still other disciplines that promote it as a method for bodily relaxation. I tend to use meditation to clear my mind--to silence the sometimes overwhelming noise I hear about this task, that complaint, this worry, that ego stroke. Meditating works for me and is usually extremely difficult; if I'm "out of shape" from lack of practice, I start off with a mere 10 seconds and build very, very slowly from there. I follow the empty-your-mind approach by focusing only on my breath. If you think this is easy, go ahead and try it (and see how long you can do it for). The masters have said that the undisciplined mind is like a monkey with its tail on fire. Mischief and mayhem!

When I'm making art. This is better than the ol' sit-down-shut-up-and-meditate approach for me. Maybe because I'm a practical person and the idea of doing something is really important to me (for now). There are moving meditations (like walking, yoga, etc.) for active people, but for me, it's making art that brings me peace, stillness, and quiet amidst the noise inside and out. Through drawing and painting, I get epiphanies, pieces of satori, glimpses of god, and a dunk in that grand oceanic feeling of being one with everything.

It's a wonderful feeling, gulping sweet air in the pervading silence above the drowning noise--but that isn't the point. I don't live to dwell in constant harmony or disruption. The point for me, as an artist and a human being, is to have perspective, to experience both the noise and the silence--to have a balance that's dynamic, like the hub of a wheel: spinning and yet unmoving in the center.

This is part of the practice of being myself.

Yeah, I need practice.

Don't we all?

Take care,

I.
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