Silencing the Noise through Contemplation

No matter where you are in the world, distraction is a certainty. Work, family duties, household maintenance, social circles, pursuits and social media feeds are just a few of the things that drain our physical, mental and emotional energy. Whether complex or simple, daily life can feel like an endless rat race with no apparent end in sight. Often, regardless of our actual fundamental needs, we fill our dwindling time with excessive activities for no other reason than having empty time available. We may have enough responsibilities, but taking on more noise eases the discomfort of silence. When we were young, we were satisfied with very little. Yet, somehow, we’ve swapped joy in ourselves for slavery to our material wants over the years. What are these wants masquerading as needs, and can anything be done to alleviate our blind race to the grave?

Mental Noise

Regardless of how physically busy we are with responsibilities, chores and distractions, our mental landscape fuels our daily marathon. Our mental landscapes contain all our paradigms, biases, judgements and knowledge about the world based on all the choices we’ve ever made. After all, we chose most of the options in our lives. We chose what we’ve read, watched, followed, revered, our jobs, our partners, our friends, our purchases, our education, our debts, our words and deeds. Even if we settled for something, we made a mental choice. That choice, for better or worse, came with consequences. Those consequences, or price, may have been calculated or accepted out of laziness, ignorance or hope. Nevertheless, they were chosen even if we didn’t actively choose. Not making a decision is still making a decision.

Likewise, we choose what we mentally focus on daily; and also what we don’t focus on. Every choice comes at the cost of another. That excluded choice may have paid higher dividends in our fulfilment or peace of mind. But being conscious of our choices and living attentively is a difficult undertaking. Except for new or complex tasks that may require mental focus, it’s probably safe to say that for most of us, the majority of our mental energy is spent on repetitive and familiar tasks. Most of what we do is so habitual and inane that not much mental effort is required. Most of what we watch, read and listen to is also consumed mindlessly without critical forethought (especially if it comes from a perceived authority). Perhaps our automatic life is a significant contributor to mental noise and subsequent suffering. Our unconscious addiction to mental noise reflects an aversion to silence. Our aversion to silence via mental distraction may signal emptiness or lack elsewhere—a misguided band-aid for emotional turmoil.

Emotional toll

I can be quite confident in saying that everything we do and think has an emotional origin. Emotions drive every decision, after all. From choosing a home or a partner, to the movie we watch, the food we eat and the app we use, everything we choose is chosen either because we feel it’ll bring us some pleasure or spare us from some pain.

Pain comes in many guises, including fear, actual pain, discomfort, boredom, shame, guilt, sadness and so on. However, pain avoidance comes at a cost because pleasure and pain are two sides of the same coin. One cannot exist without the other, and our focus and reliance on one to continuously supplant the other has a toll that must be paid irrespective of our wishes. The experience of pleasure contains the expected pain of pleasure’s future absence. The more pleasure we pursue and experience, the more pain we’ll feel in its absence. In the desire to not feel the pain of boredom, disappointment, disillusionment, emptiness, vapidness, and other fears, we busy ourselves with physical and mental noise to drown out pain’s call.

But pain is the Siamese twin of pleasure. It’s always there underneath every activity we pursue. It’s there in the subtext of conversation, in the loneliness of company, in the emptiness of someone’s gaze, in the apathy of assistance, in the bored scrolling through our phone. Pain’s shadow is there, awaiting our acknowledgement. But rather than acknowledging our own pain, our own shortcomings, our own shadow, we’ll do what humans have been doing for millennia: project onto something or someone else, what we won’t face in ourselves. With projection absolving us of any insight or accountability, we continue astride our high horse in the merry-go-round of ignorance.

The need to stop

Looking into the dark mirror can be the most confronting thing we’ll ever do. The mirror’s reflection reveals our ego in self-inquiry. It reflects our wretched face in silence. When we have to sit still, without sensory stimulation, and face the content of our mental landscape, we find ravines and swamps of putrid, almost demonic apparitions—the seething rage, the vile resentment, the false pride, the vacuous ignorance, and that ever-present cloud of malignant sub-dermal fear.

How can we feel genuine love and inner peace through this thicket of self-loathing?

Do we even know love?

We used to once, as toddlers, before love became a transaction and peace a treasure hunt. We were happy. We were whole. We were curious, humble, playful. We had very simple and few needs, and we were complete. So what happened along the way to manifest such a pervasive sense of dread?

I’ve thought about this at length. It seems the main difference in emotional security between our infancy and now was the presence of our caretakers—our immediate higher power. Someone unimaginably greater was looking out for us. We didn’t care where we lived; in fact, we had no concept of a house, only a home. We didn’t care about clothes because anything would do. We ate what was available. Those were the basic needs covered. Our mental life was filled with wonder and humility. We didn’t know anything, but we wanted to find out. The world was our playground, and life was our joy.

But underlying all this, the foundation for our self-love, confidence and security was the knowing (or belief) that our parents loved us unconditionally and would look after us no matter what happened.

Somewhere along the way to adulthood in a culture that emphasises independence, we lost reverence for a higher power. Perhaps the parent was replaced with a teacher, the teacher with a boyfriend/girlfriend, maybe then a boss, an intellectual, a government, a cause, etc. Yet, nothing replaces that innate secure love we felt in childhood because we feel betrayed, let down or disillusioned along the way to adulthood. In essence, this is the parable of Adam and Eve. The children forego the love and security of the Father for the arrogant independence through eating from the tree of knowledge. As such, they lose access to the peace and safety of Eden, to struggle and suffer in the wilderness of the world.

Because of this lack of self-love and inner-peace, our fear, resentment and rage have grown like a noxious weed, masking greed, envy and arrogant pride, revealing to everyone but oneself the absolute decay in our hearts and minds. A decay we try to ignore and fill with noise, busyness, and distraction. Anything is better than feeling the terrifying loneliness and fragility of being human. Of being an adult. What then can be done?

What possible intervention can save us from ourselves?

Sometimes we need a catastrophe to make us stop and reevaluate the dramas in our lives. A terminal illness, the death of a loved one, an accident, job loss, separation, bankruptcy, imprisonment, or a myriad of other misfortunes, often catalyse to place our trajectory in perspective. But the misfortunes themselves aren’t the subject of evaluation. All they do is force us to stop by removing what we counted on as permanent, something that assisted our hypnotic habits via their misguided security.

Misfortune can be a providential black mirror to personal behaviour or mindset, revealing our past habits as unnecessary, distracting or destructive to our fulfilment. We stop caring for vapid material and psychological fulfilment because we recognise they aren’t real. They were no more than temporary crutches to drown out or compensate for the incompetence we feel. Consequently, over time and much personal confrontation, we often become contemplative, reflective, exploring philosophical or spiritual questions in desire for universal answers.

Hopefully, answers to questions that reveal who we are, why we’re here, and how to live well. Luckily, some disciplines explore those very questions and have been doing so for millennia.

Philosophical contemplation

Plato and Aristotle

Philosophy is something that is sorely missed in modern society. Philosophy asks fundamental questions that affect our lives and, if pondered with sincerity, will transform the way we view ourselves, others and existence. Philosophy covers questions on ethics, metaphysics, knowledge, mind, being, science, religion, art, politics, living, character, logic, critical reasoning and sound thinking in general. It’s a rich tradition pioneered and evolved by the greatest minds in history.

Philosophy founded and underlies every science-based discipline. Philosophy underlies our life. When we ask ourselves how to live, about the meaning of life, what to do due to consequences, we are thinking philosophically. Luckily for us, we now have free access to the world’s greatest minds’ thoughts on our questions.

All we have to do is choose to look.

There are some classic primary texts that everyone should read at least once. The stoics offer a school of thought very similar to Buddhism. In fact, stoicism is the basis for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, a practical solutions-centred psychotherapy. Reading Epictetus’ Encheiridion is a must. Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations is also worth checking out. However, because Philosophy has such a vast scope, grabbing a general philosophy overview book may serve you in good stead. Better yet, hit YouTube for synoptic summaries of your favourite philosophers or subjects.

The terrific benefit of learning philosophy is the ability to think deeper about an issue beyond its superficial consequences. Philosophy doesn’t always offer black and white answers, but it does dive into various issues, exposing a depth to life we’ve never considered. Life is complex; we are complex, our interrelationships with everything is complex. Our suffering and arrogance are usually from thinking things are simple. We get a job, a partner, a friend, a house, an education frequently without thinking past its superficial benefits. We’re sold on the marketing and hype. Then, when the inevitable happens, we’re caught unawares and crying like children. I’ve certainly cried like a spoilt child over losing what I thought I was entitled to, and will again, I’m sure. But contemplating philosophically about our losses and gains reveals paradoxes upon paradoxes.

One paradox about suffering, I addressed in my last post. Essentially, any material gain may lead to a spiritual loss, and every earthly loss may awaken a spiritual gain. Think about it. Look back over your life, and you’ll see it.

Spiritual contemplation

Spiritual Contemplation

Spiritual contemplation is a natural progression from philosophical inquiry, and generally asks us to consider existence beyond our sensory reality and through to a spiritual domain. We see the ruse that is ambition, pride and vanity. We discover that any loss or gain in our life is temporary at best. We learn that to value fame, power, and success are fickle and detrimental to our character. The famous have no freedom. The powerful have no peace. The successful have no rest. Every gain has an opposing loss. History is rife with lessons on the futility of material success.

Spiritual contemplation opens our eyes to material traps. Earthly traps are only so because we invest too much hope for personal fulfilment in them. We lose sight of our basic needs and instead continue to increase our wants blindly. More fame, more money, more possessions, more friends, more “likes”, more distractions, more drama, more stuff, more suffering. Material and psychological addiction is exhausting because it never ends. There’s always another shiny thing to go for. There’s always someone else to impress. There’s always someone to con as fuel for our charade. We overlook what we already have for what more we could possess.

Spiritual contemplation brings light to our incessant material wants and their futility in fulfilling us. We discover something deeper and more stable within us when we search beyond physical pleasures. But where do we start? What questions do we ask, and who should we listen to?

Some extraordinary books by extraordinary men destroyed my earthly slumber and may do the same for you. I am that by Nisargadatta Maharaj, Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda, and writings by Sri Aurobindo, Ramana Maharshi, Ramakrishna, Jiddu Krishnamurti are exceptionally enlightening choices.

Some channelled materials contain incredible insights and wisdom. For example, the Course in Miracles, The Law of One, the Q’uo Channellings, and the Seth Material are rich resources to contemplate over.

The Spirits’ Book by Allan Kardec deserves to be on everyone’s shelf. It’s a collection of multiple, verified and codified mediums’ sessions answering over 1000 questions about the spiritual domain by advanced spirits themselves. If you have Netflix, you can watch the story of Allan Kardec’s journey and process in the movie Kardec. Nevertheless, get yourself this book. It answers questions about who we are, where we’re from, why we’re here, where we’re going, who created us, and what we’re to do. If you like to read Kardec’s codification and works, you can access The Spirits’ Book and other e-books for free here.

Of course, I wouldn’t be doing you any favours if I forgot to mention Emmanuel Swedenborg. An exceptional man who lived in the 18th century and a prolific writer on his communications, visions and travels beyond the veil. You can download all his books for free.

However, if you’re into the traditional spiritual route, an established religion is a highly sensible path with a global community and thousands of years in history and tradition.

Religious contemplation

Following a religious doctrine is a traditional path to spiritual life for many spiritual seekers. Often, we stick to our cultural religion, but there’s benefit in studying other religions, particularly from the East. Sometimes a spiritual teaching that’s phrased differently can ignite a spark of understanding. All roads lead to Rome, but the paths vary in origin. An eastern perspective may strike a chord for those averse to Western religion.

Buddhism’s Dhammapada, Taoism’s Tao Te Ching, and Hinduism’s Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads are incredible rich primary texts. However, if you’re curious about the bible, the books of Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are classic favourites in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, the four gospels of Matthew, Luke, Mark and John, together with James, is excellent reading. Consider also the Gnostic gospel of Thomas; it’s phenomenal.

It doesn’t matter where you start; it just matters where you end up. The point in any of this is spiritual insight and maturation because it’s spiritual growth, not knowledge, that truly quenches our thirst. Spiritual development starts with contemplation, continues with silence, and ends with insightful action. First, we usually start with intellectual analysis. We read, learn, memorise and contemplate the teachings. Secondly, we often need some silent, solitary practice. This may be in the form of meditation, chanting, or praying. This trains us to overcome the mind’s noise, put aside earthly affairs, and become intimate with Source—the Supreme Intelligence. Lastly, we apply it through our lives, not from blind duty but from humbling insight and understanding. You don’t perform a practice or behaviour to be more spiritual; you do the practice as an insightful expression from spiritual understanding.

For example, in the beginning, you may meditate to relax and focus, but eventually, meditation is a way to know Source—Consciousness. Likewise, in the beginning, many people pray for salvation or intervention, but over time you’ll think of prayer as a way to feel closer to the Divine.

It takes time, no doubt; it takes work, no argument there, but I guarantee you the foundation you’ll build from study and practice is worth the effort.

Call it a Higher Power, the Supreme Intelligence (my favourite), Source, Consciousness, Tao, God, the Force, or the spaghetti monster; it doesn’t matter. Names are labels. They’re pointers to the truth, not the truth itself. So if you find yourself squabbling over a name, you’re stuck in another drama and missing the point. You can argue all you like about names for the ocean, but you won’t know water until you get wet—and everybody gets wet eventually. I think this is a massive problem in the spiritual field. We’ve turned spirituality into a team sport. God, the Tao, the Supreme Intelligence, doesn’t have a name; He is that He is.

Importance of perspective

Look, I’m keenly aware that religion is a loaded topic, and I risk losing readers who are adamant about their beliefs (yes, even atheists have religious fervour). But this isn’t a sales pitch for religion. I have no investment in your religious affiliation, atheism, agnosticism or spiritual interest. Spirituality and philosophy, like any other interest, can’t be forced. You’re either interested, or you’re not. You might already have a spiritual life, and if you don’t, you can live perfectly fine without it. My aim is to bring to your attention that your internal noise, your habitual escapes, your busyness or apathy may be pointing to a void whose gravitational pull is felt as emotional and mental havoc.

The world, this life, this existence is an extremely challenging journey. We suffer and struggle day after day for no other reason than we’re here. Any pleasure we feel is a temporary, short-lived respite from the intrinsic feeling of dread within all of us. I’m not saying that finding “God” will fix all your problems and pain. It very likely won’t if you’re not ready. However, the philosophical and spiritual path isn’t about changing the human condition; but about changing our perspective on the human condition. A depth of perspective cultivates humility. If we understand our place and purpose in the world, our suffering is lessened because the search for meaning is answered.

Philosophical and spiritual wisdom reveals a different world, cosmos and existence to the one you’re conditioned by. You’ll always see the 3D reality you currently swear by, but with time, you can start to see the providential and divine forces constantly at play, through and around you. Recognition of divinity in our lives can offer us tremendous solace. It does this through our realisation that we’re never truly alone. With attention, we can see, hear or feel providence constantly showing us the way to wholeness. We are surrounded by signs, coincidences and miracles all the time, gently guiding our heart to where we have to be for growth through humility to a higher calling. Change happens when the lesson is either understood or ignored: sometimes with fortune, sometimes with misfortune. But however the lesson comes, we always have the free will to act however we please.

We may come to understand that we’re no more than an incarnated soul having a human experience. An actor on a stage. A player in a game. A warrior in an arena fighting a spiritual battle to evolve our soul through love and compassion. According to the doctrine of Spiritism and Hinduism, whatever we don’t learn in this life will have to be retried in the next on a different stage. That’s both comforting and unnerving. Comforting because I know this isn’t the end of a seemingly pointless singular existence, and I get to try as many times as necessary to get the message. But it’s also confronting because I don’t know under what circumstances I’ll have to return to relearn the lesson. I’m assuming my next life may be more demanding as redemption for this wasted one. Believe me, I have a lot of wasted time to make up for.

Looking within via the dark mirror of philosophical and spiritual inquiry isn’t easy. I understand why people avoid it like the plague. Our egos are wounded and twisted by bitterness, resentment and fear. However, we’re also pure, innocent and fundamentally good. One has to be pure to admit one’s own iniquity. Recognition comes from the opposition. Likewise, we always sense goodness and purity within, no matter how wounded we are. That innocent purity is our soul, our consciousness. Listen to it. Get to know it. It’s your true self—secure, loving and indestructible despite the noise, the pain and the suffering.

In closing, I don’t want to give the impression that I’m spiritually accomplished or some wise guru. Believe me, I’m the furthest thing from it. However, I’ve spent an eternity uncovering and facing my own demons. My essays are a part of that contemplative process. Through writing, my thinking becomes clear as I explain my process to you, hoping that my sincerity lights a candle if you find yourself struggling through the darkness.

To that end, may our hearts find peace in the gauntlet of life.

See you next time.

Jorge

If you found this essay helpful or insightful, I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below and share this post with someone who may need it.


Also published on Medium.

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