This music teases me with the memory of stillness. Of peace and tranquility. When I remember it I can almost feel it. Almost.
A fire cracks and night birds call out their cry. It’s called song, but it’s not really song. Sets of notes in sequence. It’s less melodious than song, and more beautiful.
My head hurts too much to be calm. There is too much fire in my throat. When I relax from distraction I remember all of the bills I haven’t paid. All of the potential clients I haven’t reached out to. All of the dreams that fester in the unventilated basement of my mind. Dreams never die, but you don’t have to die to decompose. If something can’t die, that just means it can keep rotting forever.
The notes of the music sound. They resonate throughout my brain. Through my skull and my bones.They raise the hairs along my arms and the other exposed places of my skin. A long, held note, accompanied by others. It is soothing in a deep way. A way that feels fundamental to all of existence. The background-radiation mantra of a meditating universe. Are we its thoughts? Are we the tiny distractions that dance into its conscious awareness and prevent it from focusing on its breathing? We are significant only because the universe cannot concentrate. How can we achieve peace, if our very form is that of a disturbance to the universe?
Yet it tempts me. It tries to pull me in with it. If only I could let myself go. If only every part of me could resonate with the notes. I’d have to stop moving. Stop running inside my own brain. Stop spinning the wheel of the mill, round and round, to turn the wheel that is grinding nothing. That’s all it would take, says the music. Just stop. Just rest. Then you’d be calm. Peace would be yours.
My brain won’t let me. It refuses to believe. What if I’m a shark? What if the moment I stop moving the oxygenated water will cease to pass through my lungs and provide my breath? What if the moment I stop fishermen will snag me in their nets and cut off my fin for their soup?
We’re all moving forward all the time. The earth hurtles through space, we hurtle through time. The arrow of time was fired from the bow of an angry archer who thought only of his target. He knows he cannot recover the arrow, so what does it matter if it splinters into shards against the wall? Life needs to keep growing or it dies. So do economies.
We are biological machines and the moment you turn us off you can never turn us back on. It’s a poor design that would never work for a vacuum cleaner. But we’re more complicated. So defined by our complexity that we’ve become addicted. We have to keep growing. We have to keep adding complexity or we calcify, then freeze, and then die. But we don’t stop growing. Not really. Our dead, useless machines become a rich bed for other organisms. A place for millions of other complexity addicts to get their fix.
I’m scared of peace. I’m scared of calm because it’s motionless. It’s adrift. And because it’s meaningless. Perfect peace has no purpose. The Buddha said that the ultimate goal is nonexistence. If you do everything right and achieve the purest and highest form of peace and stillness, you die. Fully and completely. You achieve perfection through meaninglessness.
True perfection has to be meaningless, because meaning requires that there be something more than what is there. You bite into an apple and it makes you feel good because you know it is organic and locally sourced. That is meaning. But if you take the perfect bite of the perfect apple none of that matters. The sensation of joy is so singular that it requires something else. Maybe later you’ll remember whether there were herbicides used in its growth, and maybe that will matter to you. But if that is in your mind while the sweet flesh lingers on your tongue, if meaning matters in that moment, then the moment is incomplete. It’s imperfect.
You can never understand perfection, and you can never understand calm. Not while you are there in the middle of it. Understanding is a disruption. It requires an outsider who is not part of the experience, standing and watching. Taking notes because they wish desperately to comprehend an experience through reduction that cannot be comprehended because of reduction. Because the act of ratiocination is an extra element that does not belong. It, too, needs to be removed if you want to achieve stillness.
It is hard for me to trust what I don’t understand. To cease moving is an act of faith. I’ve been there, and it’s beautiful. No, it’s that deeper place that beauty is built upon. If beauty is staring at a mountain shrouded in fog until tears line your eyes, then stillness is the mountain. It doesn’t need you and your emotions to be magnificent. It just is.
I’ve been there, and It Is. I know this. I know how I feel when I am there, and I know how beautiful I feel when I come back. Yet still I’m afraid. Afraid to stop moving. Afraid to stand still. Because I understand something. As far in as I’ve been, as much as I have slowed down, I have not reached the deepest part of the well. I have never achieved complete calm, or absolute stillness. I have brushed my fingertips against perfection, but that is all. Because I have come close enough to figure out something that is true, magnificent, and terrifying.
If I enter that place I might never come back.
Stillness leads to death not just because we must always grow. But because everything we love, all of our joys and hopes and dreams, they are imperfections. They are illusions. We desire them only because we have never drank of perfection.
If I want to be this person that I am–this fake, illusory person–then I need my suffering. I need the stress that is the inevitable result of movement. You cannot run forward without burning energy and creating waste. Entropy is exists is all reactions, and so only non-reaction is perfect. But all meaning comes from reaction. Meaning is a waste product, but it is also the source all beauty, all joy, all magnificence.
This music tempts me. It sings its few notes of stillness and they are all that is needed. It whispers to give up my fear and step into the still waters. It doesn’t matter if I drown. My lungs and my breath and my entire being won’t matter once bathed in that total perfect.
I will approach, because the feeling is sublime. But I will not listen to the whispers. As I step into the place of calm and stillness, I will keep a tiny fragment of fear in my pocket. Just enough that I will always return. I will always choose to continue to be a person, even if that is flawed and imperfect. Because there is value in this flawed and addicted universe. There is magnificence. There is meaning.
I don’t want perfection. The illusion is too beautiful.