Current Issue #488

Modern Times: Embracing the Beauty of Nothingness

Modern Times: Embracing the Beauty of Nothingness

There is beauty in nothingness. There is beauty in silence, in empty space, in an interlude.

Conversations gather meaning if a moment of reflection is allowed. The greatest orators use a moment’s pause to enhance the power of the previous remark, or to increase anticipation for the next. Unfilled spaces can help unclutter minds and provide a floor on which a creative spirit can dance.

We clutter our language as we clutter our lives. The use of punctuation in prose is a tool through which we control the rhythm, and accentuate important points. The current orthodoxy, however, demands that we eradicate commas. In conversation, silence is rarely tolerated. If a question is not immediately answered, there is a tendency to jump into a pause once used for reflection. There is an intolerance for nothingness.

Modern life does not encourage silence. Our lives are covered with a thick cloud of activity. Moments are not left to linger. When we talk, words flow unceasingly. One event is immediately followed by another; each is diminished, difficult to discern as a separate entity. The Persian poet, mystic and philosopher Rumi described our lives as a “frantic running from silence”. This fleeing from silence is surely more frantic today than it was in his time.

For many, a life of ceaseless movement is necessary to survive. Single working parents, for example, would seldom have the luxury of a moment’s reflection. Nothingness is not an option. The idea of a society in which citizens enjoy balance between work, family and personal time, between responsibility and creativity, between action and reflection, continues to elude us. It needn’t.

Economic growth and advances in technology allow more to be done in less time. For most of the 20th century in Australia, growth and productivity were afforded shorter working weeks and longer holidays. Now, we don’t ask for more free time but higher wages. We have decided to work more and pause less. We are worried about how to perpetuate growth and prosperity, not how it will improve our lives.

Liberation from this ceaseless life is only possible through conscious choice, but the pressure to conform is strong. Rumi encouraged his readers to take their own path to quiet. Your way, he wrote, “begins on the other side. Become the sky/Take an axe to the prison wall/Escape”. The decision to find space for quiet contemplation requires serious commitment.

We have been conditioned to work towards immediate material goals, or to accumulate enough wealth to retire early and spend the final phase of life in material comfort. By contrast, Rumi calls for immediate action. “Walk out like suddenly born into colour/Do it now.” Why fill our working lives with furious movement to achieve a brief, restful retirement?

It is possible to enhance the quality of the present without sacrificing career goals or long-term material security. An uncluttered mind is more likely to produce quality thinking. Quietness, reflection and moments rich with nothingness have the potential to enhance the quality of our words, our actions, our lives.

“Your old life was a frantic running from silence. The speechless full moon comes out now.”


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