Every sound is born out of silence, dies back into silence, and during its life span is surrounded by silence. Silence enables the sound to be. It is an intrinsic but unmanifested part of every sound, every musical note, every song, every word. The Unmanifested is present in this world as silence. This is what it has been said that nothing in this world is so like God as silence. You cannot pay attention to silence without simultaneously becoming still within. Silence without, stillness within. You have entered the Unmanifested.-Eckhart Tolle “The Power of Now”
As I mentioned in my last entry, I had the honor of co-hosting a Creative Arts Night event, at my job of which centered on a panelist discussion about the ways in which the lives of organizers and grassroots workers among many others intersect with and influence the art they create.
My friend and co-editor kicked it off with introductions of the panelists and their bios. I came up to moderate the Q&A, pass around the mic and then kick off the open mic. Our first and only open mic performer was a young guy, a writer and student who works on our IT staff and had submitted several poems to our Arts and Culture section. The first one he read was one we had published. The second was a poem which concluded with an observation on the death of Michael Brown.
I don’t remember what words came before the last word said in that poem: silence. After that, everyone became completely silent. I know now after speaking to several attendees that we thought he was asking us to take a moment of silence and we went with it. A minute went by and I thought how powerful and beautiful that we were all so supportive in taking this moment of silence together for the slain Michael Brown. After another half minute, he looked around and asked if he had offended anyone. I thought he was still performing. Performance art often uses confrontation to break the fourth wall and bring the audience into the moment. But then another minute went by and I became aware that something very immediate was taking place inside of me because I was open, expecting that the silence would eventually be filled with more words but receiving only more silence and feeling stillness.
I heard police sirens in the midtown streets just outside. I heard the ding of the elevator bell in the hallway. I felt the hard chair beneath me and up on the podium I began to understand that what we were witnessing was a young man experiencing performance anxiety yet not running away, not filling up the silence with panicked chatter, but examining it and watching it while we watched him. I spoke to him afterwards and he was absolutely not performing. He could not have planned it if he tried. It was for me, a deeply rewarding and unexpectedly meditative experience. I had entered an umanifested space of pure energy, the moment of stillness before anything, any thought, movement or sound takes place. There was such an immense space there.
In “The Power of Now” Eckhart Tolle talks a lot about present minded living and about the moment in meditative silence when thought stops. The Japanese call it Satori, “when attention rests in the present moment, when the body is alert, sensitive, relaxed and the emotions are open and free.” That’s where I was all of a sudden on a Friday night at my place of work no less after the stressful hours that followed as a part of planning something into which much expectation was invested and then just letting it go. Before that I admit I was stressed out, irritated, embarrassed (the turn out was not what we expected) worried, not to mention sweaty from doing not only clean up from the previous group but also doing a chair set up that building staff was required to do. So I was holding back a lot of negative energy and pressure and taking a lot of deep breaths. In the end all I could do was execute the plan. That unexpected moment of presence made me realize that this was all that really mattered. Not what could have been or might have been or even what might be when we do this again.
Now is always happening now and it is the place where we as human beings reside in our lives the least! We define progress by a great deal of activity and business and running in place and competition and comparison and judgement and keeping up when in reality what we really need, we have already. And it’s not necessary to become a different person in order to see this. It’s only necessary to become who you truly are.