Our lives are saturated by noise. It coats us like grease and our ears, brains and souls fry in it. It is a constant sizzle that assaults our minds and our being.
Driving to work, there is the hum of traffic and the noise of my tyres. To blot it out, I turn on my radio or CD player. This is a technique called “white noise”, that is, to introduce a predictable noise in order to mask other noises. It can be a kind of “noise” cold war – your neighbour is playing loud music, so you play something you like so you can’t hear your neighbour.
But preferably it is playing something gentle, melodic and calming so you create a peaceful space for yourself. There is a part of my mind that is easily bored. When I am quietly reading, it is the part that picks up its trident and horned tail and tries to get my attention. Was that the phone? Is the iron still on? He uses my resting senses as a bowling alley. A little music usually settles him.
Meditation is great, and you can practice emptying “stuff” and noise from your head. But it is hard work! What’s hard? Truly emptying the braincase of noise and crap. There you are, sitting, lotus-like, arms gently relaxed and outstretched, eyes closed. And there, in your mind, is some thought you CAN’T get rid of! And yes, now it’s mounted a thought motorbike and it’s doing a wheel of death impression inside your otherwise empty skull! Agg!! I HATE that.
I have only experienced silence a couple of times. Once in the arms of my girlfriend, when love had pushed aside anything but the nearness of our hearts. And once while standing stock-still in the virgin snow above the chairlift on Mt Kosciusko, a breathless emptiness with no sound, no wind – just piercing sunlight on pure white. I still meditate with this image.
So why do all these new-age people bang on about silence and meditation? Why do I need it? Okay. There is a lovely crystal-clear stream nearby and you want to drink some water. You pick up your glass and it’s got a slice of lemon, some angostura bitters, a rice cracker and some wasabi-peanuts in it. Do you dip the glass in the stream? No. Why? Because it would fundamentally alter your experience of the water. So, you try to empty your glass and clear out everything, but the lemon won’t budge. You figure it’s still okay to drink, because you like lemon and know its taste, so you can probably distinguish between lemon and water. Okay, it’s better than not drinking at the stream at all.
Of course, if you want to experience the water, and nothing else, you have to empty the glass. Not half-full, or half-empty – empty.
And emptiness is to the glass what humility is to the soul.