Metha Bhavana

December 17, 2010 at 12:10 pm Leave a comment

There is something about silence.
I spoke to a friend of mine yesterday about meditation retreats which I’ve been wanting to do for a long while. She told me a friend of hers was going to a cabin in the forest, all by herself, away from the city. My immediate thought: scary! Being all alone where noone can find you and it is cold and maybe, possibly there could be ghosts there…But she wanted to get away from noises, telephones, computers, people…i guess she was looking for silence.
I meditated quite regularly for a year and regret that I have not been able to follow up this year. I figure it should be one of my promises to myself for the coming year. It was very challenging to start with, especially when I was by myself, with my thoughts. I wasn’t used to listening in silence, I was used to my talking organising my thoughts. So I closed my eyes and out came thoughts and images from nowhere. And all of a sudden it was not so silent anymore, quite loud in fact

From the emergence of electroacoustic music (Schaeffer, Stockhausen) came an expression called reduced listening. The idea is that you listen to sounds for what they are, not what they sound like. So, for instance, a cat-like sound might be described as a loud, squeeky, high-pitched sound. We’re used to describing the sounds we hear with metafors of what we are familiar with so that we can visualise the sound and connect it what we know. A loud, squeeky cat sound might be familiar, we recognise it and accept it even if it pleasant or not. If the same sound was distorted and did not sound anything like a cat anymore, we might reject it and think it is unplesant to listen to. Now, the idea is to get used to listening to all sounds, even the cat sound on the same level as a sound you’ve never heard before. It is difficult because we are used to our ‘normal’ way of listening. Clearing the mind and achieve a reduced listening experience proves to be a challenge.
Diversion of patterns and habits is interesting. There are so many ways in which our set of mind fools us. To accept, but at the same time divert and re-direct the habit, assumption, need, feeling and so on, without struggle I find cause frustration and rejection. In meditation my mind would be subconciously controlled and I would fall asleep instantly, even if I wasn’t at first tired.

John Cage wrote a piece called 4’33”. The premiere caused reactions. The orchestra was on stage, seated, ready to play. But they never started to play. The piece is 4,33 minutes of silence and on the score there is no notation.
The audience was shocked on its premiere. It caused irritation and people left the room. How was they supposed to act? Being the early 50’s it was considered a scandal.
But what is silence? How do we define music? We are used to hearing music as melodies, rhythm, tones, scales, tonality/atonality and so on. But listening to silence is also an aural experience, a musical one – if you wish.
During 4’33” the audience was performing without knowing it themselves. Whispering, talking, footsteps, doors opening and closing. Members of the orchestra would move on their seat, move their instruments. Perhaps you would hear sounds from outside the hall, people, bar, cars – all in one sound scape.
Cage was breaking a pattern. When we go to watch a performance, we exect the performers to act. They are the mediator: Audience – performer – experience. To take away the performer you have: Audience – experience. How do we react to that? All of a sudden you sit in a room with strangers (ofcourse not always). Perhaps we would take up our phones (medium replacement) and pretend to be texting with someone. 60 years ago there were no phones. Maybe they started looking in the programme (meduim replacement).
Today, We are more used to experimental music and contemporary performances of all kinds that challenge the audience/performer perception, but I am not sure if of us would be able to accept the exposure of 4,33 minutes of silence. I think we would perhaps feel restless, uncomfortable, frustrated, embarrassed, annoyed and more. Maybe you even paid a lot for your ticket- silence, what a waste of time!

Expectations easily controls our mind. We predict what we are used to is going to happen. Experiencing something we don’t know, something we can’t explain or relate to, something we hadn’t planned or are unfamiliar with leaves one standing without back-up. It is not in our control, we don’t know what will happen next. Will you embrace it?
Ask your family, your friend or colleagues to be quiet for 4,33 minutes. How long does it take before someone giggles, whispers, texts etc.? And it is quite a long time to be quiet.
Our perception of success, feeling contempt and satisfied is often a result of our expectations that have been met.
To avoid the unplesant experience we divert it, that’s natural – we all do it.
The challenge is to accept it, experience it and adapt to it.

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The Illusion of Individuality: Where Do We Find Creativity and Spontaneity Silence continued…

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