Friday, February 18, 2011

Vistas of Silence

Bridges often serve as an icon for a city.  few years ago I walked the famous Brooklyn bridge into Manhatten and a conference in Sydney afforded me the opportunity to make a slow run across the bridge and back again. It was a warm, windless day of high humidity and in the light of dusk tourists lingered with cameras and flying foxes, (fruit bats) flapped slowly across the water. far below the Opera House was lit by the rays of the setting sun as a full moon brought a new perspective as light faded. Far below green ferries from circular quay carved arabesque characters with their wakes on grey green waters as they reversed in and out of the harbour.

Sydney Harbour bridge has been an icon for the city since it was completed during the depression years of the 1930s and I was enthralled to listen to a friend who was there at the opening standing on an orange box to see the festivities. It's a vast modernist construction of steel and sand stone and like the beam of an ancient temple gate it welcomes nautical pilgrims. Running on walking the bridge offers views of the steel work and vistas of land left behind and opening views of the land being approached as well as the ever moving water beneath.

Bridges are places of trysts and sometimes of suicide, targets during wartime and often in medieval times a hermit or priest would guard the bridge and travellers might stop briefly for a prayer. Even to secular people bridges often have a liminal sacred sense about them. they are everyday pathways for commuters and often the backdrop for special occasions. many are design statements, engineered for strength and flexibility, a sign of permanence often making implicit or explicit statements about the hopes and beliefs of their communities, playful yet serving a utilitarian purpose.

Silence too offers a vista allowing those who make the journey to see how landscapes of human thought and belief are interconnected. Practitioners are separate from yet participants in the flux and flow of life. The well worn exercises that permit us to enter deep and vivid silence are strong yet flexible constructions suspending us between speech and sound. Our practice must be strong enough to bear the storms of emotion and our hopes and griefs, yet flexible enough to carry the load of our inner journey. Like any bridge the practice of stillness and silence requires constant maintenance to protect it from the 'rusts' of a noisy and distracted world.

Silence is a view and a vista, it carries our everyday commute through the day as well as being a journey to be taken for sheer enjoyment or for the purpose of a spiritual tryst with other people in a zen group, a Quaker meeting or prayer before the monstrance in a Catholic church.

The raft is not the shore as Buddhists remind us, and silence will often take us to a new awareness, an unfolding truth, even a painful internal confrontation with oneself. Silence is a bridge, a view and a vista.

Changing the subject, one of the strangest bridges in the world is the Newport transporter and I am pleased to hear it has been saved from the scrap heap. I remember my father taking me on that bridge which moved us across the muddy Usk river in Wales.

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