I think many of modern life’s ills stem from running away from quietness and lurching for something more. Constantly lurching, reaching out, not settling inwards. I think about this today as I bounce and lurch from task to phone call to the fridge and back again.
We are so afraid of stopping and being quiet. I practice being in a quiet space each day by meditating. To sit and do nothing is noble. It takes smarts. Reflection. I don’t kid myself it’s easy. It is my life’s toughest journey: down and in.
As Oscar Wilde once wrote:
“To do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world, the most difficult and the most intellectual.”
To sit with the silence, the nothingness, it’s a tug of brutal war. Every part of me wants to run from the quietness that my meditation mantra attempts to take me to. So much so, my right hip actually aches as I meditate. It’s my right leg that lurches out towards life. In many traditions, the right side of the body is seen as the “masculine” side. As in, the side that tends to be about lurching out, conquering, forcing, making things happen, doing. And so my right hip aches to move away, to do.
As an aside, it’s my right leg that attracts all my injuries – I’ve broken my right ankle twice, split open my right knee twice, broken my toe and torn a tendon… all on my right leg. And always when I’ve been forcing life too hard. When I’ve been doing and not sitting in enough quietness.
You might want to read about one of my favourite techniques for sitting quietly with myself here.
Why do we run from the quietness? Pscyhiatrist Neel Burton writes about the manic defence in The Art of Failure, The Anti Self-Help Guide:
The manic defence is the tendency, when presented with uncomfortable thoughts or feelings, to distract the conscious mind either with a flurry of activity or with the opposite thoughts or feelings. A general example of the manic defence is the person who spends all of his time rushing around from one task to the next, and who is unable to tolerate even short periods of inactivity….
The manic defence may also take on more subtle forms, such as creating a commotion over something trivial; filling every ‘spare moment’ with reading, study, or chatting on the phone with a friend; spending several months preparing for Christmas or some civic or sporting event; seeking out status or celebrity so as to be a ‘somebody’ rather than a ‘nobody’; entering into baseless friendships and relationships; even, sometimes, getting married and having children.
I’d add: taking drugs, writing lists, checking Instagram, eating between meals and looking at someone when you crack a mild joke wanting their laugh.
For me, when I go to the quiet space in meditation, it’s like it’s too strong. I touch it and immediately ricochet off to thinking about what I need to do next, what I’ll make for breakfast etc. It’s like it burns, this quietness. It’s like I’m fearful of what will happen if I operated from it – like it would be way too powerful, this nothingness.
But something tells me it’s worth seeing what I can be when there’s no more something more. When it’s just (noble) me. Know what I mean?