Saturday, May 21, 2011

Silence is primary for Plotinus

Is silence simply a lack of sound, natural or created? If we understand silence in that way it will always suggest that something is missing, an acoustic hole to be filled. In the same way we define ourselves be what we do and have and not by being.

For Plotinus (c204 CE - c 270 CE) silence is primary, just as thought precedes action. Our actions stem from being as he writes:

"As speech is the echo of the thought in the soul, so thought in the soul is an echo from elsewhere: that is to say as the uttered thought is an image of the soul thought, so the soul thought images a thought above itself and is the interpreter of the higher sphere." (Ennead 1 Tractate 2 para 3)

The 'One', the 'Absolute' the very centre of being and existence is silence and contemplation and everything is an emanation from this centre. The cultivation of silent contemplation is therefore a form of returning to the source.  From this source when words arise in a written or spoken form they are more likely to have some wisdom and insight about them.

The persuit of silence for me is a reminder of the superficiality of so much of my life and underscores poor choices or being ruled by the latest thought or by my emotional state. Words flow out creating a kind of trance or the illusion that life is as it appears rather than as the product of collective thought.  As James Hillman writes somewhere, we all live in a kind of fictional world with at least in part a kind of fictional identity through which we desire others to view and relate to us. We are carried along by the magic of speech and by making lots of unbeautiful noise the box of normalty is ticked.

Plotinus writes in tht same passage on the Virtues: "What could be more fitting than that we, living in this world. should become like to its ruler"

An authentic spirituality is to place 'being' at the centre, to refuse to be defined by our job, possessions, home or nationality for these are attributes, not an essential part of our nature. This is a challenge and a task for me.

Every word, written and spoken, any sound we make and any music created or listen should remind the creator or the listener of its origin in true silence, the fountain of being.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

An experience of silence when leading ritual

Today a delightful and memorable occasion for me, leading a ritual for a former colleague and her husband with their wider family and friends to celebrate a wedding after a legal ceremony in Europe.

In a lovely garden in a forested area called Kauipo forest south of Adelaide on a sunny autumn day we gathered in a circle for this ritual of welcome and incorporation, lighting a candle, the couple tieing a purple ribbon around their hands to symbolise their individuality and connection and then family and friends making an archway with upraised hands to welcome and bless the couple. This was not a formally religious occasion but replete with ancient and more modern symbolism.

In my reflection I spoke of Epicurus and his ethicl perscrition for a tranquil life, living simply and with appreciation and cultivating deep friendship with time, ability and commitment to deep conversation. Epicurus saw this as a remedy to the sickness of attachment to the pursuit of aquisition of more and more possessions, status anxiety and the influence of popular opinion and superstion. Epicurus' philosophy stems from his materialistic world view but one can commend the ethics without buying the foundational belief particularly for those too ruled by ideas of duty and commitment.

During the ceremony which for me was new ground both philosophically and geographically I noticed that as I was speaking, relating, community building with the people gathered around that at the same time there existed within me a ground of deep internal silence and stillness, a fountain of energy. There was nothing within objecting or criticising or questioning. The word flow is much overused but that seemed to sum up as a metaphor what was going on for me,
Sound, logoi, words flowing from the well of internal silence and stillness and experiencing deep connection from all surrounding me, land, air, people and plants all joined. I am grateful of course.

Jean Baudrillard on indifference

In his essay 'Conspiracy of Art' the French cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard writes this:

'For me [energy] came from a kind of indifference.  An indifference that was no longer subjective.  A sort of desert form, not a landscape or something found in nature, let alone from culture - an unidentified object.  It would be the same thing in terms of passion: some kind of apathy and apathetic form... a stoic form in fact.  Differentiating between what concern you and what does not, including in your own life. refusing to account for what we're being made to be responsible for. Refusal of that kind is strategic, a kind of tactical indifference'.

This is a quotation that appeals to me and it's written in one of my philosophical notebooks I carry around with me to dip into during the day as a therapeutic re framing of thinking following a counselling or coaching session.

What I take this quotation to mean for me is to cultivate detachment from the over stimulation within the visual field, the host of potentially interesting ideas and more particularly the overload of opinion.

To cultivate a desert awareness is not to turn away from the flow of bios or life but like the counsel offered by Marcus Aurelius the stoic to work from within one's inner Citadel and be strategic in what one responds to. Internal silence, a desert awareness allows for real choices. Here is space to consult the inner compass of values and faith and to focus the awareness.

Baudrillard has been labelled for his claim that the Gulf War never happened, that all people experienced was a stream of images carefully chosen and manipulated to such a difference that reality is too distant. His claim that people prefer 'sexed up' news, sensationalism, gossip I think has much to commend it. Perhaps the philosopher should counsel fasting from too much visual and auditory stimulation?