Thinker, teacher and renowned Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh was in Boston last week. As the 86 year-old teacher of peace and quiet was introduced before a thoughtful crowd of more than 2,000 who came to Copley Square for the event billed as “seated meditation,” he sat quietly and said nothing. He remained still and silent for 25 minutes. The crowd joined him in knowing solitude, alone with their thoughts and yet connected to one another by their shared reflection. The fact that more than two thousand people sat together in silence in the midst of the bustle of Beantown was noteworthy, so much so that the mass mediation made regional and national news.
After than long, serene, and silent interlude, this champion of kindness and mindfulness simply said, “We breathe in and breathe out, and in that way we can stop the thinking, because the thinking can take us away from the here and now.”
No lesson, no words, no message is more important in today’s overloaded, frenetic, and info-frenzied society than the simple yet powerful example of a silent and humble teacher, instructing through silence. There were no ringtones blaring, no text signals buzzing, no twitter feeds blinking during Boston’s collective quiet.
We are bombarded by the cacophony of information that is thrust upon us every second. Whether we want it or not, this information age of ours barrages us with non-stop bits, bytes and blips, making the sort of stop-the-madness pause to reflect witnessed in Boston a difficult and lofty – but attainable – goal.
We can start right here. We can have a local – and perhaps a regional and national – day of quiet. We can – and should – have a day without tweets, texts, and posts. We can – and should – have a day where we dedicate some time to silence – together. That could and should be followed with the remainder of a day dedicated to conversation with others, face to face, person to person. We are losing the art of conversation. It is dying a slow and almost unnoticed death, falling victim to the overabundance of up to the minute information that overloads our senses and sensibility.
A typical walk down the street today will likely include encounters with people young and old, heads down, thumbs and fingers feverishly tapping, unaware of the sights, sounds, beauty, and people around them. When we put down the devices and actually soak in the beauty of the mosaic of humanity before our eyes, our lives and our days get richer and more fulfilling. As Thich Nhat Hanh would say, we become mindful of the moment. We stop thinking and start seeing.
Last week, Donna and I spent the afternoon in Boston with her near-lifelong friend Donna Loughran and her husband Jim, who were visiting from Virginia Beach. We didn’t watch TV. We didn’t see a movie. We hopped on a bus and enjoyed – relished really – the masterful painting of a late summer afternoon in one of the world’s great cities unfolding before our eyes. As a sun shower pelted the bus with a soothing rhythm of raindrops and the tour guide left his letter Rs in his pocket and shared his version of local history, we sat in silence and just enjoyed the company of one another and the intermittent sun peeking through the greyness above. Afterward, we had dinner outside on the sidewalk at Legal’s, and watched as hurried commuters rushed in to get their takeout, likely scurrying home to their beloved televisions and laptops, ready to be immersed and then ironically lulled to sleep by more noise, news, and information, only to wake the next day and do it all again.
For an evening at least, we resisted that temptation. We sat for a couple of hours, laughing, sharing, talking, and making new memories. Instead of offering a terse and impersonal order to our waiter, we asked him to join the conversation. He did. Joel just finished his studies in International Relations and Northeastern and is looking for work. We told him a joke. He shared that he wasn’t going straight home to his girlfriend, but instead was joining a buddy in Somerville for a beer. Actual human contact can be contagious. Another employee overheard our conversation with references to Falmouth sprinkled in, and came over to share a hello. Elysia King, the daughter of Marilyn and Wayne Hatt, Falmouthites who have operated the Woodsmiths, joined and shared the story of her family-owned business, which has provided exceptional custom-made appurtenances to homes on the Cape for a generation. By simply being immersed in the moment and not the madness around us, we made friends and lasting memories.
There was no CNN breaking news during our Boston visit. There were no twitter feeds. The world and the cacophony continued to swirl around us, but we – for a brief blip in time – were mindful of the gift of the moments and memories unfolding one at a time before and between us.
Yes. We can look at the world by looking away from our phones. Whether the mindfulness of the moment includes silence or simply freedom from the onslaught of electronic info, taking time to quiet the madness allows us to see.
Let’s take a look around us – together. Let’s have a local day of quiet.