Woody Allen once said, “I took a test in Existentialism. I left all the answers blank and got 100.” Isn’t that the beauty in existence? There is no right or true way of existence, going by the classification oft-used by philosophers. However, if there was ever a commentary, detached from impassioned detours into matters of human conditioning, on existence, stillness and silence played a resounding role, either during conception or formulation (no pun intended).
How important is hustle to existence? Nah. No Tony Jordan and Kudos on this one. Could living be an ‘act’ on Shakespeare’s ‘All-World’s-a-Stage’ or just another mode of matter, manifested, on the fabric of spacetime? Is existence nothing more than an equilibrium borne out of self-organizing elements or possibly the interplay of order-and-disorder, knowledge-and-ignorance, sustained over time?
A few days back I started reading Eckhart Tolle’s treatise on the concept of ‘Stillness’, courtesy a good friend (Rammohan). In the bid to being-in-action, to keep doing, to keep moving ahead or just being in motion, given the rise of competition in most walks of life and an increasingly aspirational society, we often forget to just sit back and observe, to just-be, as I like to put it. This apparent act of inactivity cannot be an excuse for lethargy or shirking one’s tasks. Rather, much like the rotating light on a light-house, on a dark and stormy night, stable and periodically lightening up regions on the disturbed seas, a still and stable mind is enlightening (well, the autology is all but clear).
Just as the relevance of the stationary light-house is in its act of lightening up the rough seas in the dark, and the relevance of a stationary tree on a trail in the forest is to provide for the caravans and travellers moving through the jungle with its fruit and shade, the relevance of stillness often is to provide for what is lacking in motion: replenishment and clarity. Replenishment of ideas. Replenishment in the realization in stationary awareness. About the significance of the individual, in relation to the elements (people, things, events, times) around. Just as in Quantum Physics where the position of a particle has limited certainty if one is quite certain of its motion (read: momentum), in existence, one may seek to know as to what is more important: the point in and/or of existence or the associated validation of existence by motion and activities?
In theology, one has the concept of ‘The Watchers’, sometimes also called the Nephilim. They were supposedly guardians who fell out of favor with the Lord due to their lustful detours from their act of protecting humanity. They are usually portrayed as silent remnants of the clan of ‘angels’. Besides the beauty in the telling-of-the-story, what hits me as a powerful point is the silence of the Watchers. Isn’t this a connotation of repentance, acknowledging and being aware of the gravity of the trespasses? I personally believe that the silence is more an acknowledgement of awareness and an act of humility than an act of repentance. The humility to realize the fallen nature of oneself and not being all-so-important-and-mighty (falsely) to keep acting without registering the nuances of one’s activities. One can only then see the broken nature of oneself and of the collective whole (of society, of nature even), the broken symmetries and order, even the absurdity in human life and society at times!
Going back to ‘Stillness Speaking‘, I felt that the most beautiful statement in Tolle’s treatise was
“There is something that matters more than any of those things and that is finding the essence of who you are beyond that short-lived entity, that short-lived personalized sense of self. You find peace not by rearranging the circumstances of your life, but by realizing who you are at the deepest level.”
But one may ask what is the relevance of stillness in our everyday lives. Well, the root cause of unhappiness often is conditioning, an oft-debated-upon topic. Conditioning arises out of ego. It arises at times with the need to maintain a sense of identity, of seperateness, of going one’s own way, irrespective of the consequences. Often it is borne out of the need to satiate one’s thirst for the material, to fulfill one’s desires. An interesting point that Tolle mentions and that I have since pondered over is that this ego needs to be in conflict with something or someone. That is why we are ‘looking for peace and joy and love but cannot tolerate them for very long’. We seem to be constantly defining and redefining ‘happiness’, without ever knowing it ourselves all too well, since if what we attain is happiness, then why do we tire so soon, having received that apparent provider of happiness oftentimes? One says one wants happiness and stability, whereas what one often tacitly seeks is unhappiness and disturbances. True happiness, as the seers of the Orient said, seemingly cannot be achieved by the conditioned self. It is simply not possible since the vase of desire, if there was to be such a thing, is either an ever-engorging one or one with a million leaks. It just cannot be filled to the brim. This simple realization often comes when one sits back and just-is.
Moreover, I tend to believe that most things in nature and the cosmos have a certain bit of self-similarity. Simply put, just as fractals and other figures in natures have a certain pattern that is repeated in their constituent elements as much as in the whole, the act of existence and the various aspects of our immediate existence and environs may have the seed to understanding a ‘bigger picture’ (as most management gurus like to put it, with all due respect accorded to them). Existence, in itself, is such a momentous phenomenon, if one were to think about it, and that, much as silence highlights the importance of motion and vice-versa, is all the more understood upon pondering over the cessation of existence. The fact that fascinating celestial bodies in the universe, great empires in far corners of the world and even species of flora and fauna once existed and do not anymore is in itself a powerful reminder that though often knee-jerk moments in history abruptly shift the course of how things evolve, by-and-large each of them does have a role in the manner in which we reach where we are or will be eventually. In the language of Physics, I like to believe that the arrow of time is led by the arrow of correlations and entanglement: the whole evolves in the way in which the constituent elements correlate and evolve. Stillness often gives us a window into understanding (truly) this simple point, since much of activities nowadays is often either absurd in their conception or consequence. There often is an order in an apparently (localized) disorder, much like in the plot-lines of post-modern fiction. One probably just requires a big enough frame and the patience to get to there to see the picture in its entirety or to an appreciable extent to discern this ‘order’.
Without rambling on and on anymore, I will conclude this article with a gentle reminder that the journey in stillness is a refreshing one, as many, if not most of you may have realized over the years, and it harms none to give more than a ear to the likes of Tolle and Buddha when it comes to the concept of plain existence, to just-be, in stillness.