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Posts Tagged ‘George Prochnik’

AustraliaSkyZen has been called the study of silence. “We need silence,” writes Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, “just as much as we need air, just as much as plants need light.” But how, exactly, are we to study silence? By what means can we cultivate its nourishing presence?

Just be quiet, one is tempted to suggest. Just be still. But in a world rife with noise and distraction, that choice may no longer seem plausible–or even very desirable. In her book Reclaiming Conversation, the sociologist Sherry Turkle reports that many of the people she has interviewed, particularly young people, have an aversion to silence, finding it merely boring. They would rather go online. And as Thich Nhat Hanh observes in his book Silence, many of us are afraid to sit quietly, doing nothing. By keeping ourselves ever-busy and ever-connected, we avoid such negative feelings as loneliness, restlessness, and sadness, which can become all too present when we are silent and alone. If we wish to study and cultivate silence, it would seem, we have first to overcome our resistance, whether it be grounded in aversion or fear. (more…)

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In Philip Larkin’s celebrated poem “Church Going,” a secular Englishman, out for a ride on his bicycle, stops at a local parish church. After making sure that “there’s nothing going on,” he steps inside, casting a cool but observant eye on what he encounters:

             Another church: matting, seats, and stone,

            And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut

            For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff

            Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;

            And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,

            Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off

            My cycle-clips in awkward reverence . . . [1]

As can be seen from these perceptions, Larkin’s narrator is ill at ease in his surroundings. They are musty and make him tense. Yet, as he will inform us later on, he was drawn to this “cross of ground” and its “unignorable” silence. And though he summons an ironic phrase (“up at the holy end”) to bolster his resistance, he attempts a gesture of respect. (more…)

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