Silence, please: noise and the disharmony of modern life
Graham Peebles writes:
The worlds we inhabit are noisy places.
The external environment – particularly cities, where over half the population now live, suffocates under a cacophony of competing sounds, from road and air traffic, to power tools, car alarms and neon lights.
Moreover, for most of us, the internal, mental space in which we live is equally chaotic and cluttered. Contradictory thought patterns rise up one after another, jostling for attention, demanding to be heard and acted upon – conditioned, and therefore partial thoughts, which move us away from the present – where peace exists – and into conflict.
This endless stream of space invaders is fuelled primarily by the senses, by memory and desire; the desire for pleasure in its myriad forms, for security, for status, for freedom from pain, and for love – or a version of love at least.
A daily escape from this endless bombardment, is, in principle at least, offered to us by the sanctuary of sleep – a mirror to death perhaps.
But even there, in the dark hours, thoughts are ever active. Sleeping not, they trigger images to tantalise, excite, frighten and confuse, as the movement of the day continues well into the night. Rest, and the comfort of silence, are denied, or at best broken up.
And so, having been unable to sleep deeply, quietly, we wake and stumble unrefreshed, unreplenished and agitated into another noisy, busy day, which we meet, as we have met the ones before it, with an army of self-, or ‘I’- centred thoughts, crashing one upon another.
In our competitive, loud world, silence is all too often regarded negatively and seen as something uncomfortable and to be avoided. If it comes too close, in the train carriage perhaps, on the bus or street on which one walks, a distraction is quickly found to fill the vacant space – inane conversation or a screen of some kind perhaps.
Headphones, mobile phone or a “tablet” are for many the contemporary sedatives, the distractions of choice. Switch on, plug in and instant relief – the void is filled, the confrontation with oneself, with loneliness and fear is avoided, for the time being at least. And, the golden opportunity – did we but recognise it as such – for silence to emerge out of the fog of uncertainty, and embrace us, is lost.
Public spaces such as hospital waiting rooms, train stations and airports, as well as banks and post offices increasingly have television screens in them. From a flat black screen on the wall the BBC News channel, or some such equivalent, is relentlessly pumped into the minds of the unsuspecting as they wait.
The lack of choice involved – nobody is ever asked if they want the TV on – is not only discourteous but is an infringement of free will. A fundamental human right – albeit one not enshrined in law – our free will is constantly violated by those who seek to persuade, manipulate and condition – from politicians to corporations – and they use every means at their disposal to do so.
A populace with a mind agitated by desire and in a constant state of discontent serves the elite (the power groups of government, corporations and money) well. Such a mind is constantly reaching out into the material world, seeking sensory satisfaction, so sales of stuff – the consumerism, upon which the whole pack of neo-liberal economic cards rests – is maintained.
Peace at the heart of the chaos
Beyond our endless thoughts, our fears and desires, beyond all the surface chaos, sit’s silence. A point of peace and contentment veiled by activities of the mind, which Helena Blavatsky (founder of the Theosophical society), in The Voice of The Silence, said is “the great slayer of the real”.
Through our unconscious focus on the senses and desire, the mind is constantly being pulled out into “the world” and away from its source, which, the great Indian Sage Ramana Maharshi and other seers maintained, is silence, or “the self”.
This wrench places us in a condition of almost permanent discontent and unease, and, as we identify with the thoughts that consequently flood our minds, a noisy barrier to silence is erected. It is an unconscious “separation wall”, that restricts insight, denies vision and traps us in a state of perpetual disharmony.
From this noisy, dishonest platform choices are made, opinions formed and decisions reached – decisions that create the physical, emotional and mental world in which we live – individually and collectively. Political leaders come and go, the names change, but the consciousness – the fragmented, ideologically coloured place from which decisions are made and action proceeds – is much the same.
Endless chaos, division, fragmentation and wars are the inescapable results, for the outer, physical construct is a direct reflection of the inner world of thought – one flows from, and is shaped by, the other. If there is disharmony within, conflict will follow; the means and the end are one and the same – dishonesty at the beginning will lead to corruption at the end.
Mistakes are repeated, again and again; conflict rages, the madness of wars and intolerance, extremism and totalitarianism continues, and, inevitably, unity, peace and harmony remain unrealised ideals, for as J. Krishnamurti made clear, “goodness does not flower in the field of time”. The “field of time” he is referring to is thought.
For the destructive patterns of old to be overcome and for “goodness to flower”, fundamental change is required. Not just systemic external change – a little tinkering here and there – but a true revolt, a change in thinking: what we might call a silent “revolution in consciousness”. When the mind is quiet, free from torment and all desire, the decisions, choices and actions that flow from such a source will result in harmony, for that is their nature.