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.

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