I think I just finished my new book. I’m sitting on my early morning sun filled balcony and the strangest thing just happened. To my left, I hear a bunch of forget-me-nots that I planted earlier this week, telling me to shut up. Now I don’t know if it’s them or me, but I do have this strange feeling that I’ve said what I wanted to say. This book –about writing, oddly enough- has taken me on a journey that ended up right here, back home staring at a forget-me-not that was here all along.
I’m suddenly reminded of my favorite childhood book, called “Oh, how beautiful is Panama!” It’s about two friends, a little bear and a little tiger who set out for a place called Panama. They’ve been told that Panama is the most gorgeous, most wonderful place on earth. Throughout the book they travel far and low, encountering all kinds of friendly –and not so friendly- creatures, only to end up back home-convinced that they have found Panama.
Any bells ringing? I, for one, am still looking for Panama most of the time. I drag myself through Major Drama, only to end up at square one. And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. Whether it’s through words or work or relationships, most of us spend so much time trying to understand our life. What does it mean? What is it all about?
While we are busy understanding life, life itself is taking place undisturbed, constantly. Available always. Open for participation always. Still it’s us who find the shows that are playing in the Theater of Your Life Right Now not interesting enough. Too painful. Not important. Not dramatic enough. Who cares about the sounds of a passing motorcycle? The clump of dog hairs dazzling on your living room floor? We want Oscar material! Not your downstairs neighbor blowing her nose.
So we create entertainment, art, and hop on that gigantic detour of finding out that what we have been looking for was here all along. Yup; the dog hair, the Kingdom of God in a grain of sand; I’m pretty sure you’ve had your share of Panama’s too.
I make this crazy detour through writing. I spend a ridiculous amount of time writing about, say, the forget-me-not on my balcony. I do this in an attempt to understand them –and through them secretly myself and life in general. While I was angrily editing and erasing pages of contemplations on the limitation of words, I could have just sat with the purple-blue buggers. Like you do with mysteries such as forget-me-not’s –and life in general. You don’t try to solve them like they’re some kind of problem. Chilling with it is the only appropriate response to bumping into a mystery. You just hang in there, more or less. You don’t really have to understand what is going on, as long as you show up.
But oh no, that would just be too easy for us. Too good to be true. Yet this is the profound message of most wisdom traditions: you are exactly where you need to be. You are home already. You were not, are not, and will not be separated from that which you seek. Whether you call it God or Buddha nature, basic goodness or plain ole’ happiness; finding it is one thing you can erase from today’s to-do list. It’s already been taken care of.
But there’s one minor problem… We have somehow gotten extremely good at forgetting this. Why, I can’t say. I only know writing is one way I remember. It helps me see what I’d usually overlook. How you perform this funny forgetting-to-remember-and-forgetting-again dance is different for everyone. Most important is that we do it. Let’s dance.
I’ll never forget my first conscious experience of silence. I was seventeen and standing in the Sahara desert. Now growing up in a city, and living in the Netherlands in general, I wouldn’t know silence even if it bit me in the ass. But the Moroccan desert near Erfoud did the job just after sunset. I suddenly realized there were absolutely no sounds whatsoever, 360 degrees around. It was an overwhelming experience. I was even more astonished to find out that the desert wasn’t even silent –even though there was no sound. It wasn’t empty silence. It was loud silence. It was loud because I could hear every single thought as strong as thunder. And not only mine. I felt I could hear every thought that had ever been thought there. Every feeling that had ever been felt there. It was truly remarkable. So this is what people mean when they talk about a “deafening silence”, I thought to myself. This is how the Sahara taught me that true silence is the beginning of true listening.
Now you don’t need a Sahara to teach you how to listen. Being silent wherever you are right now will open you up to a variety of sounds that you probably weren’t aware of just a minute ago. But I guess I did need a strong silence to make me realize what the deal was. That silence isn’t mute. That space isn’t empty. That both silence and space are not void of something; they’re actually full of something. It’s just not the kind of something that you’re used to! It’s not the fluff, the incessant wishin’ and hopin’ and plannin’ and dreamin’ (and fearin’, if I may add to Dusty Springfield’s famous song) that you usually fill our lives with. When you don’t stuff your life up like a stuffed animal, there’s actually space for something. For life, to be specific. Those are the qualities, the characteristics, so to say, of space and silence that –when allowed- makes them so alive and vibrant and loud.
In those rare moments that you allow silence, when you puncture the firewall of busy-ness, you allow Life to flow on its own terms, in stead of on yours. Which actually is always more interesting. (I’m not saying more comfortable, just more interesting and real.) So next time an unexpected space opens in your agenda, consider not immediately filling it up again. That doesn’t mean hours of being silent or retreats to Bali (although that would be nice). I’m talking minutes, seconds, of suddenly relaxing the skin on your forehead. Lifting your face up towards the sun. Breathing in to say something, but then don’t. With each of those moments, you puncture a little hole into your I’m so busy I’m so busy ‘I’m so busy trance (or whatever trance you’ve got going) through which something truly fresh called Life can flow in.