Friday, October 26, 2012

if you let that silence in

Feeling really inward this evening. One of those times when you just want to sit and watch the changing of the light, as the evening sky goes from afternoon to sunset to the indigo of night. Reading until it's too dark to see anymore. That sort of mood. Wanting everyone to just go away and leave you alone, even though it's not that you want to push people away, just that it's hard to be around people when you're in that mood. This is exactly how depression and PTSD alienate: you don't feel like you can connect with anyone, because you're in a different universe than they are. Nothing connects. E.M. Forster's epigram and key phrase from his novel Howard's End was "Only connect." But at the end of his greatest novel, A Passage to India, there's a scene between two of the main characters that raises the doubt that we ever can connect. That it might just not be possible. We try hard but there are always rocks and hills that get in between us, get in our way. I feel on the other side of the mountains from everyone, in these evening moods. This is the ceremony of the changing of the light. No light to see by, till the carriage lights turn on and the sky tries to fill with stars. Which it won't tonight, because of clouds and cold. I need to get out and go grocery shopping, just a few odds and ends, but I don't want to move at all. I wrote a poem some years ago in this mood, and it had some legs, even got published. "La Madonna." A young wife's interior monologue, as she sits in silence, in a quiet moment between the flurry of her usual day. "In a minute," she says, before the poem ends. She'll rejoin the world in a minute. Sometimes you just want some time to yourself, to be still and silent and by yourself. One thing that experience has proven is that extraverts never really understand introverts; they never comprehend why we need to be still and silent for part of our day, how it recharges. I also feel in no rush to be around people these days, as they tend to be noisy and clueless and overbearing. PTSD for me means I get easily overstimulated. It just gets too loud and overwhelming sometimes. I get the sense that lots of my friends really don't understand that. I doubt few of them have even read this far. How do you get a quiet message through the personal and cultural noise? The voice of the divine isn't loud, it's a still small voice, a voice you must listen for, and it's easy to miss. Too much noise, not enough signal, that's the state of the world. It's mostly noise, very little signal. I've had friends marvel at the fact that when they come to visit, I don't have the TV on, or the radio, or even the stereo, using background noise to cover over that silence, that void and gap in conversation and communion that most people seem to be deathly afraid of. Geese are passing over, there's only a thin line of light on the western horizon, everything else has gone blue and grey. People are afraid of silence. We've all gotten so used to the loud noise of cultural that people are afraid of even gaps in conversation. We're so used to fast editing in the entertainment, sharp cuts and jerky camera shots and editing for maximum adrenaline stimulation, that people don't know what to do with themselves if the moment is too quiet. I have friends who are incapable of sitting in silent companionship, saying nothing, just holding space, just sharing the silence. The minute there's a gap in the noise, they try to generate signal. But it always comes out wrong. They stumble. But I'm afraid of the silences and gaps in fellowship. I'm comfortable with silence. The void is a longtime companion that I have come to know very well. Whole worlds can drop into those silences. When I'm driving across the loneliest two-lane highway in the world, a hundred miles from anywhere, out in the desert in Utah or Nevada, or on the unpaved roads of the northern Great Lakes backcountry, I sometimes pull the truck over, turn off the motor, get out, lean against the hood, and just listen to the silence. An hour of the total silence of the desert is worth a month of talk therapy. Things settle in place. Life stops. There's nothing but the present moment, nowhere to be, nothing to do, and most importantly nothing that needs to be said. I know a lot of very smart people who are incapable of silence, who process everything in words, whose lives make no sense to them until they talk it out or think it in their minds in words, till they fill the void gap with their own words. I know writers and poets who never shut up, and don't know how to. But I also know musicians who know the value of a long rest, of the fermata, of the breath-pause in between phrases, that tiny moment of absolute stillness that an entire world can fall through, between the end of one phrase and the beginning of the next. No words there, and none needed. The words fail us at that point, and that's where the bard and shaman know that poetry begins. Purple and grey band of light under the soft lip of steel clouds behind forks of bare trees as the wind stills for long enough for you to hear something in that evening silence that can feel the world. If you let it.

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