Blaise Pascal: ‘All of humanity’s problem stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.’ Jolyon Connell in The Week is my starting-point here. He also quotes Steve Taylor: ‘The urge to immerse our attention in external things is so instinctive we’re scarcely aware of it.’ E-mails, tweet and texts only feed our longing to be distracted.
How absurd it all is. And need it be this way? We’re so locked into our culture we don’t give ourselves a chance. Television long ago took over the quiet of the sitting room. 24-hour news only dates back maybe only ten years, but it seems longer. Once upon a time there was the 9 o’clock news when we’d sit and listen expectantly to the radio. Go back a few generations and we’d be waiting for the peddler selling chapbooks or for the town crier…
There is no greater joy an immersing yourself in the quiet. Or total immersion in art or music, and I’m thinking of Beethoven’s 9th as I write, having just emerged (literally it seems) from listening (on the radio) to an extraordinary performance by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra at the Proms. The mind no longer wanders or diverts.
In the one case it rejoices in silence, in the other in the supreme patterning of sound.
Ordinary life is so full of static, of the irregular, confusing, the half- or unfinished. If we achieve anything we do so while fending off endless irrelevancies. There is another way, as the Buddha taught 2,500 years ago. Life doesn’t have to be a reckless pursuit of the never achieved. (For do we ever actually achieve, in any permanent sense?) In silence and a quiet mind there is all you need, and if you require a reckless pursuit take joy in those final moments of the Choral Symphony, when joy is all-consuming and lifts your concentration and your mind to another level.
Come the final chord all I had to do was turn the radio off before the Proms audience exploded into cheers. I failed. But their joy was mine also. Silence had to wait a little longer.