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Saturday, 23 June 2012

After the failure of the previous post in explaining my purpose for this blog, I thought it best to just get things under way and let things happen as they will. This is perhaps good practice for life as well, if you are that kind of person.

If this does not warm your heart, I sincerely hope I
don't know you personally (Courtesy: garryknight)
So yesterday I was wandering back from the shops, groceries and chocolate in hand, and saw something special. An elderly couple, probably sixty or seventy at the youngest, walking hand in hand. Now it might seem overly sentimental, but there they were struggling against old age with a pace achingly slow; she with a limp on the side of her hip and he holding her purse with what must have been most of his strength. It would have been a heartbreaking sight except that both of them, somehow, were smiling through it all.

And this is where I began to think, for before now was simply ‘left foot, right foot, birdie, car, tree, tree’. These newfound thoughts were about silence.

It tells us a lot more than you'd think that it could. For instance, I knew from the kind of silence between these two that they had been together for years. Twenty, I guessed, if not more. That’s quite specific for what was in practical terms nothingness, but amazingly enough I am certain I was right. And there’s a certain pride they wore which comes from that bond, which I think when we’re serious we can all agree we long for.

There seems to be this impression that ‘silence is longing’ and all we can do is dream of the other life which for whatever reason we didn't quite get, but I don’t believe in such bitter things or anything quite so macabre. Not about this. Instead, I think we’re all in want of some kind of peace. Peace like enlightenment, except instead of knowing heaps or whatever we’re content to simply sit and breathe the air that we’re in. I know it sounds like crap and I’m generalising like a madman (READ: politician/artist/anything remotely religious) but why else do we grow old and quieter, instead of the opposite way around? Is it that we grow tired from the constant youthful bustle of noise and brazen excitement, or is just that we only later in life find ourselves comfortable waiting, thinking, praying, being?

I grew up on a farm, so maybe my ideas are purely my own stemming from all of my country town-ish experiences, and perhaps I’m overstretching by a long shot in assuming anyone else at all has these wildest of conceptions, too. Still, for all the rushes of the city, the activity and passion (which I love, to be clear), surely eventually things have to wind down when we bring ourselves to calm.

It’s something that I think the Japanese do really well, in allowing themselves to be quiet for the right amounts of time (although if you’re looking for proof of this, don’t go to anime or manga. But do go to them if you’re cool and want something awesome to read. Just saying). Here is a picture that I took of a man in Yoyogi-koen (ie. a park just outside Shibuya in Tokyo):

I took this photo, that's right. Now where's my award?

It’s a tradition on Sundays for buskers to come out to Yoyogi-koen and play their songs and do little performances for everyone to see. Nobody really loiters anywhere (at least not when I was there), but people move through the park doing mostly their own thing, and you’ll see dancers and actors rehearsing and whatnot. Very cool stuff. As you can see, it was winter then, so there isn’t a lot of colour (although that, for me, made it even more thoughtful and emotive), but here we see a man playing his drums in the middle of the park. All alone, with not a single person watching. Well, except the strange white tourists with the rudely loud cameras...

There’s a concept called mono no aware, which I suppose I’d describe as a wistful or somewhat gentle sadness for the inevitability of passing time and having lost things with it. It’s not an idea exclusive to the Japanese. Historically, I don’t even think they were the first to devise it (far from it, based on what I know). The reason I stick with mono no aware (which using my fairly basic Japanese vocabulary, translates roughly to “the sadness of things”) is because of the slightest essence of optimism that they seem to have attached to it. Much like the Japanese culture in itself, I get this sense of sentimentality in such a perfectly, richly and studiously sliced amount, where it blends itself so well with the existence of life, of emotions and consciousness.

Death looks sure pretty for flowers
(Courtesy: monkist)
But I’m getting off-track. I feel like this concept (of accepting that things will pass, but not bitterly or with specific regret for this) is at the core of what we strive for in silence. I don’t mean this in an anti-establishment or elitist manner, but the young have this enthusiasm for holding things, for claiming them, and often I think they aren’t willing to let go, if only from fear rather than clear-cut selfishness. As time goes on this drifts away in parts, until eventually with maturity comes acceptance and value. This is how I see it. And maybe, I think, we show these things, that we’ve found only through the passage of time, through silence.

So what a blessing it would be, to have found someone who joins you in that moment. Silent, connected by a wordless foundation of trust and happily consenting dependence, almost as if they need never speak again. So yeah, I saw an old couple yesterday. It was kind of cool. Kudos to them and all that they meant for me.

P.S. This post was NOT just an excuse for me to post pictures of pretty Japanese gardens or adorable old couples. It was NOT!

P.P.S. A much more visceral experience of mono no aware can be found at http://nighbluey.blogspot.com.au/2010/02/mono-no-aware.html. Feel free to check it out.