The Pursuit of Silence

and giving in…

It has been a summer of quiet. Avoiding the noise. Relinquishing the pressure of “content”, in terms of both producing and consuming.

I wrote very little. Read less than I’d like (awaiting new reading glasses). But listened.

I dropped every project on my summer to-do list, except extending my morning meditation to 20 minutes, which I have done with more ease than I anticipated. I unintentionally developed a daily yoga practice as well. I don’t recognise myself.

And yet, I do.

I heard about some recent research on the Curiosity podcast this week that rang true for me:

The study causing a stir among meditation boosters was dead simple in design. A pair of professors out of INSEAD and the University of Minnesota asked a group of people to come into the lab and either listen to a short guided meditation or sit around and let their minds wander. Next, the professors told the participants that they’d be performing simple tasks, such as editing a cover letter, and asked how motivated they were to do the tasks.

Did they want to do the assigned busywork? For the meditation group, the answer was largely no. “After meditating, people lacked motivation. They didn’t feel like doing work, nor did they want to spend much time on it. Being mindful made people focus less on the future and instilled a sense of calm — just as it promises — but that came at the cost of wanting to get things done,” the authors explain on INSEAD Knowledge.

[my edit: HOWEVER] When it came to people’s actual performance on the task, meditation had no effect. It neither helped them get the job done better, as meditation proponents suggest it would, nor harmed their ability to get it done. They simply had to force themselves to do the task more after they meditated.

Can I just say that I am more than fine with not having motivation to do “assigned busywork” anymore? Whether assigned by others, or self-assigned. I believe that meditation gives up the perspective to distinguish what is significant and what is expected. I can choose to do what is expected, but put my heart into what is significant.

What the article doesn’t mention is that there are several kinds of motivation. One of most common being fear. After so much rejection last fall and a winter of depression, I spent a good deal of summer thinking about how I have fetishised my identity as a writer. As a poet. What keeping up appearances has meant for the praxis of my writing. I forced myself from the fall to keep a handwritten journal, rather than an electronic one – just to remind myself that public documentation of writing does not make it any more significant.

I asked myself whether my writing time passed in a state of anxiety, of fear. Whether I was writing to prove something to the vague, indefinite judge out there of what is “good” poetry. Whether I was motivated by a fear of not being seen (ie not being “real”), … or a fear of being seen.

This week is the first week back to school. I am looking forward to meeting the students tomorrow. Looking forward to my morning routine – which includes writing.

The difference now is that I no longer think of it as the time in which I have to justify my existence.

I have been listening to John Cage’s music. Wondering what silence has to say for poetry. I’m listening to the coffee machine and its easy metered song. I’m motivated to discover what words will come from it all.

 

 

Posted in: Poetry

3 thoughts on “The Pursuit of Silence Leave a comment

  1. Couldn’t love this post more if I tried.
    John Cage is a huge inspiration for me, too. Along with the Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu), possibly the most useful corrective to our obsession with being useful that’s ever been written. (Its only flaw is an almost total absence of female voices. Even the Bible is more woman-freindly than philosophical Daoism.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Dave. I have actually had a huge hang-up and goal to be “useful” for most of my life. This (Christian) idea that it is necessary for me to justify my existence. I think I have possibly given that up now. – Oh, yes. So much I love about the Daoist philosophy, so much I don’t. Same with Buddhism. I love that the Buddha came around to including women (a bit) and that he presumable said – when he was in his 80s – that the Sangha didn’t need a leader, only the Dharma. That is my kind of Buddhism.

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