Sunday, August 12, 2012

Rising Above The Noise

(Click To Enlarge)

This is a picture taken from somewhere on the henro trail in the spring of 2011 and it symbolizes a lot of how i see my time on Shikoku.

Many of us don't realize how noisy and hectic our lives are. Day after day, all day long we are surrounded by noise and distraction. Car and truck traffic, horns honking, radios and TVs playing, the constant chatter of the other people around you, telephones, mobile phones, iPads, mp3 players, books, and on and on. The noise never stops and the ways we can find to distract ourselves is never ending.

We have become so used to it that we block it out and say it's quiet even when sitting on a train with people talking around you and an mp3 player playing in the seat behind you.

That's what life is like when down in the city of this picture. People always coming and going, traffic zipping here and there, trains running back and forth, wheels squealing as they turn corners, bells sounding as the crossing gates go down, dogs barking, arguments here, shouting there, TVs blaring in the corner of the ramen shop, kids yelling as they play in the park...

And there's little chance to escape all of that unless you look for those few islands of tranquility. There are always some around somewhere in town, standing out like small hills beckoning you to climb to the silence they offer. Those islands could be local hills and parks, monasteries, temples, churches, public libraries, or even a very special friends house. When you find your island, and experience the silence they offer, you immediately find peace.

Unfortunately, though, you sooner or later have to go back down, back out the door, and back into the noise. It's inevitable. Unless you stretch your view and allow yourself to look a little further in the distance. If you look long enough you begin to see that stretching all around the town is a ring of mountains. Encircling the daily noise is a ring of peace, a ring of solitude, a ring of sanity. But to get there you have to do some work. You have to climb above your daily life into a new world.

As you get closer and closer to that sanctuary the people and their machines thin out. As you get closer and closer to sanity the intrusions become fewer and nature's natural quiet slowly begins to predominate. When you get to the actual foothills, you notice that if you aren't alone there aren't a lot of other people around. This search for peace may be a common desire, but it seems that most people are not willing to put in the work required to find it.

The climb to high ground usually isn't easy. No, that's the wrong way to say it. It isn't hard at all, all that is required is that you commit to taking one step after another, always pointing uphill. While that may take a lot of work, it's not 'hard,' per se. If you are lucky, or smart, you may find a path that suits your temperament. Some people want to climb but can only tolerate slow, lazy, gradual switchbacks. Others may prefer, and can tolerate, the climb directly up the fall line. Most of us fall somewhere in between or switch between the two extremes as our energy waxes and wanes throughout the climb.

But once at the top, once away from the noise and hustle, the calm and quiet envelope you like the sweet smell of incense filling a small room. As your mind settles down and the thoughts begin to slow, the world opens and your sense of who you are begins to expand. Then you can sit down and look back on the world you came from and see it, not in the minute detail of your daily life, but as the grand mosaic it really is with everybody and everything interconnected, everybody and everything contributing to both the successes and failures of the society, with all of the individual communities smudged out leaving just "us."

As you look down from these heights you can understand the story of Indra's Net, of the interconnectedness of everything. You can see the futility of greed, anger, jealousy, and the problems these bring about. You can see the need for sharing, compassion, and love, and the solutions these could put in place. When you look down from these quiet heights of solitude you see the city, not the streets, buildings, and individual people. You see the oneness, not the duality.

And then, after letting the lessons sink in, you put your boots back on and make the climb back down to the market place and home.

Is who went up the same as who came back down? Are you coming down to the same old world? Or can you keep your vow never to go back as you smile and greet everyone you pass on your way back into town.


Damian said...

Thank you for this Sunday meditation. It arrived at an opportune time for me. Blessings, Damian

Lao Bendan said...

A pleasure. Glad someone besides me found it useful. Have a good day.