On Silence and Creativity
The Wise say that midnight is the hour the Face of God is closest to the world. Perhaps that is because the night, in traditional cultures, was once quiet and mysterious; one could only hear the breath of the winds and the far off cries of night animals, the promise or dread of tomorrow.
Midnight, for most contemporary Americans, probably means something besides keeping watch over creation with the Divine – it means returning from a movie or the bar, or it means the night shift, or sleep, or television. Cities are busy by night, and even the rural areas, in their hidden ways, are a swarm of activities and entertainments.
Activity means extending oneself into the world, holding its hand, wooing and dancing with it, arguing, dueling or trading blows. Activity, though, most usually means losing oneself in the world, forgetting oneself, going through the motions of what most of us call “living”: being completely caught up in the events of the world and daily demands to act out pre-written roles one has not so much chosen as surrendered to. One’s language is filled with gossip and hearsay, words and ideas of anonymous “others.”
A certain amount of inauthenticity is unavoidable in human existence – that is obvious enough. But sometimes, around midnight, I wonder whether our culture has almost completely obliterated authenticity – whether inauthenticity, living outside oneself to such a degree that one’s interior only speaks in dreams is the only acceptable form of life. I wonder how many people act as they do because they must, because they must be who they are, because they have some genuine idea of who they have to be that was hammered out in sweat and doubt and years of anguished questioning. And I wonder how many act as they do because it is “what is done,” what is fashionable, acceptable, expected – even because it is the easiest path.
Maybe here, in San Antonio Thursday is the dead night – the streets are clear and quiet; I haven’t heard a siren for hours, nor the roar of a plane going who-knows-where or why. All that’s here is my cat, who alternates between being drowsy, loving and energetic and destructive to the furniture. My wife sleeps, tired after a day of work. And there is the television. I watched the news shows – Joe Lieberman wants to violate the Constitution by stripping the citizenship of people he doesn’t like; Arizona wants to punish poor people who come here illegally for work and a better life rather than focus on the businesses that hire them or social justice; oil spews into the Gulf of Mexico; Greece is falling apart, the European Union is shaky, the U.S. economy may sink yet again. Wars smolder in the Middle East and American soldiers see the sun rise over strange horizons.
All of these concern me, pull me out of myself . . . for a moment. But it is midnight, and at midnight one becomes aware of exactly how little one controls in this world, how limited one’s ability to influence events. As soon as a thought is formed or a plan, a word spoken well or poorly, as soon as one puts one’s hand to something – the rest is a matter of Fortune and Providence and the choices of others. What is within my grasp and responsibility lies deep within me: it is mine to go within, to withdraw from action and outward activity and learn who I am and who I must be.
In the midnight silence, there is space within, my own cavernous interior, where there is a reflected echo of the Divine Face: sometimes it is a dim spark, sometimes a shadowy outline, sometimes a whisper, a direction. In the silence, I can become caught up in the conversation between myself and my Self, and between myself and my God. In ancient times, the Greeks and the Romans called this secret Self that dwells within, this secret messenger between me and the Divine, the daimon: the guiding spirit or Reason, one’s holy angel, one’s destiny, one’s vocation.
It is only in the silence of withdrawal that we can hear our particular calling – the vocatio, our special calling and direction in life, the unique and irreplaceable person who we must become if we are to be ourselves. Before and after all action and activity there has to be withdrawal into our secret Self to question our destiny for guidance, for we are like sailors on the seas at night and our special calling is the Pole Star we must guide ourselves by – it does not fail to lead even if all other stars fade or fluctuate.
And all others stars do fail, do fade, like the fashions they are attached to, the mind- and soul-numbing activities they inspire. Each has only one true, authentic Self, a true calling more than mere ego in this world, a mission that must be done by you or me and no other. One must hone, train and beat the unrestrained, raw ego into a perfect tool to achieve this mission by means of the pressure of virtues and high standards of honor. There has never been any other way to live properly as a human, as humanity is something to be achieved and won, not something handed over easily or automatically, lightly, as a gift of bountiful nature. For there is something beyond nature in the human, something always to be done, not something simply to rest in having been achieved. Human being is a matter of active self-creativity, not the automatic processes of nature.
Richard Van Ingram
7 May 2010
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