10th July 2017

I have been thinking a lot today about silence and absence, about darkness and emptiness and taking pause to listen and observe and not judge. Last night we watched a movie on Netflix called The Circle. It wasn’t a great movie, it wasn’t bad either. It was about an organisation that provided social networking, I guess it is likely modelled on Facebook, and the organisation is called The Circle and when you work there it takes over your life. The main character, played by Emma Watson, is co-opted into going for ‘full transparency’, that is she allowed the organisation to project every aspect of her life and she interacted with the people who commented on it, and of course it went wrong. Privacy is an essential part of our existence, we need quiet spaces into which we can withdraw and re-centre ourselves, to figure out who we are and how we want to be. Total openness, total transparency, doesn’t permit this. We show ourselves warts & all as an act of intimacy. It is impossible to be intimate with the entire world. Something fundamental is lost in the process.

I was thinking this morning about the implausibility of writing anything meaningful in an era when every person with access to a keyboard, or a keypad, and the internet is screaming silently into the void day in and day out. Myself included. We have been told it is good to talk, that we will all be fulfilled by self-expression. Maybe what the world needs now is a long dose of silent reflection. Myself included.

And I have been reading this wonderful article by Jenny Odell, which was in fact a talk, about doing nothing, the value of doing nothing, the ways in which art and nature can subvert our thinking and remind us what is important, how to allow time to pass and not feel we have to spend it. As though all time is currency; in fact it is hard to even talk about time without falling into the idea of spending time of using it, as though it is a resource which only matters when it generates currency. I came to realise as I read this article that the entire reason I wanted a cat – notwithstanding the cuteness, the companionship, the joy that comes from sharing your life with another – was that having a cat gave me an excuse to sit still, to stop doing anything. Oh I can’t get up because the cat is asleep on my knee. I must sit here doing nothing because the cat is simply forcing me to do it, it would be completely impossible for me to move. And this has worked so beautifully that we will, hopefully, shortly be adopting five rabbits and then I will simply have to sit very still outside in the garden because it is most important that the rabbits become accustomed to my humanness and human smell; and once we have both the cat and all the bunnies it will be simply inconceivable that we could leave them so I will be obliged to stay home rather than going on holidays or day trips, visiting relatives or travelling for work because the bunnies, after all, will need me and it would be unforgivable to let them down. Poor, innocent little bunnies.

I read another article today about a man, an artist, who learned a new skill every month as a way of reminding himself, again, how to be a beginner, something adults are not very adept at. And I was thinking this is a great idea, that I love this idea, but what I need more than anything is to learn to do nothing, to be quiet and silent, to allow the world to evolve around me without needing to intervene or to shape or to assert my selfhood onto it. If I were to make a list, it might look like this:

  1. Listening
  2. Not speaking
  3. Not reacting
  4. Not asserting my opinion
  5. Exploring darkness
  6. Being very still.
  7. Not doing anything.
  8. Observing without judging.
  9. Thinking, silently.
  10. Shadow-watching.
  11. Emptying myself.
  12. Yielding.

I still have so much to learn.


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