Posted by: Harold Knight | 01/15/2013

The Fifth Freedom: From SILENCE

My late partner's great-grandmother

My late partner’s great-grandmother

Today is a day of deadlines for me.

I must return a paper to my insurance agent to complete the coverage for my new car (a spiffy, sporty 2012 Honda Civic two-door coupe). I must submit to the university a ridiculously complicated, detailed, impossibly arrogant and meaningless “assessment” of the efficacy of my teaching. I must do my yoga practice in class at the Dallas Yoga Center— I must pay for the six-month renewal of my membership. And I must attend one of my regular twelve-step meetings and meet with my sponsors in two of the programs, one before and one after the meeting.

At the suggestion of one of those men, I am attempting to read Eckhart Tolle. Before I say anything else, I must say I find a wonderful and most likely self-defeating irony in reading a book—an activity of the mind, and the mind alone—whose major premise is apparently that

. . . the single most vital step on your journey toward enlightenment is this: learn to disidentify from your mind. Every time you create a gap in the stream of mind, the light of your consciousness grows stronger. One day you may catch yourself smiling at the voice in your head, as you would smile at the antics of a child. This means that you no longer take the content of your mind all that seriously, as your sense of self does not depend on it (Tolle, Eckhart. The Power of Now: a Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. Vancouver: Namaste Publishing, 1999).

I said I’m attempting to read the book because I am having a great deal of trouble with it. That’s not because of the book itself. I have trouble reading anything these days. I can’t concentrate, and almost everything in writing bores me. I also have a sleep disorder that causes me to fall asleep when I read—or is that a convenient excuse?

So I have deadlines today. Except for the yoga practice, none of them interests me in the slightest, and I will have to force myself to meet them. I know that, as a member of society and (to some appearances) a mature adult who can and does take responsibility for himself, I must do these things. It is the way things work. It’s part of the social contract by which we live. You do all of these time-consuming, meaningless, ridiculous tasks, and we will make sure you have food to eat and a place to sleep. We will provide you with freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. I know Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms well. The praying woman in Norman Rockwell’s depiction of them the government used to sell war bonds during the Second World War is my late partner’s great-grandmother.

You’ll notice I said “late partner.” He died. As did his great-grandmother. I assume she lived a long and life and died of natural causes. He, on the other hand, died at age 62 of melanoma. A horrible way to die. Eva Cassidy died of melanoma almost exactly seven years before Jerry Hill. He, an opera aficionado—a Wagnerite beyond good sense—became enamored of her singing of “Somewhere over the Rainbow.” Her album The Other Side was on his CD player when I took it home from the hospital after he died.

Freedom from want?

Freedom from want?

Jerry was five years younger when he died than I am now. It gives one pause. One’s mind can scarcely—no, absolutely not—wrap itself around the idea of one’s death at any age, much less at a youthful (and he was youthful and healthy) age.

Lest you think I am once again fixated on death—will he ever stop writing about it? (probably not until he can’t)—I’ll remind you of my claim for this bit of argumentative rhetoric:

Except for the yoga practice, none of them interests me in the slightest, and I will have to force myself to meet them.

You didn’t realize this was an argument or that it had a claim.

It is an argument that I would like to be able to make without the voice in my head, without identifying myself with my mind. But, of course, I cannot, and if I could, you would not be able to hear it or read it or comprehend it.

Last night KERA TV in Dallas began airing the BBC series “Monastery” in which five unlikely secular men agree to live at the Benedictine monastery of Worth Abbey to explore the monastic life. I stumbled upon it quite by accident (following the program I was intentionally watching). I decided to watch it, an enormous mistake on my part.

I have written before about my experience of making a vocational retreat in 1992 at the Monastery of the Holy Cross, an Episcopal monastery in West Park, New York, directly across the river from Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s home at Hyde Park. While I was there, I went across the river with one of the brothers to lunch at the rectory of St. James Episcopal Church, the Roosevelts’ church in Hyde Park, where the recipients of the Four Freedoms Awards are entertained. The rector told us about entertaining Paul Newman, recipient of the Freedom from Want Award a few months before.

Did I say everything seems to tie together, or are you simply beginning to get it?

The deadlines I must meet today are of no consequence, but I will meet them. They are of no consequence in any view of human existence broader than the office of a Nationwide Insurance agent. Most of our views of human existence are not broader than that.

I want to be quiet. I want to stop thinking.

Freedom from silence

Freedom from silence

About my death or anyone else’s. About whether or not my teaching will be effective during the semester that’s about to begin. About how to grow in relationship with my lover (I was alone—physically and emotionally—for nine years after my partner died, but that period has ended). About whether or not I believe in Jesus or care about the church. About the pathetic state of the oligarchy in which we live, pretending that it’s a democracy. About car insurance. About cleaning my apartment.

Eckhart Tolle prattles on and on to get his readers to think about not thinking. I don’t mean to belittle him, and I will finish his book. But the Benedictine brothers of Worth Abbey simply live in silence. They listen. They live in silence until the silence begins to take over their thinking. They don’t need Tolle, and they don’t need car insurance.

Somehow in the midst of earning a living, being in love, and trying to keep up with details like car insurance, I want to live in silence.

It is not possible. Or perhaps somewhere over the rainbow.


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