Insensitivity and Resistance to Noise

From Krishnamurti’s Book COMMENTARIES ON LIVING 3

The sea was calm and the horizon clear. It would be an hour or two before the sun would come up behind the hills, and the waning moon set the waters dancing; it was so bright that the neighbourhood crows were up and cawing, which wakened the cocks. Presently the crows and the cocks became silent again; it was too early even for them. It was a strange silence. It was not the silence that comes after noise, or the brooding stillness before a storm. It was not a ‘before and after’ silence. Nothing was moving, nothing stirring among the bushes was the totality of silence, with its penetrating intensity. It was not the hem of silence, but the very being of it, and wiped out all thought, all action. The mind felt this measureless silence and itself became silent – or rather it moved into silence without the resistance of its own activity. Thought was not evaluating, measuring, accepting silence, but it was itself silence. Meditation was effortless. There was no meditator, no thought pursuing an end; therefore silence was meditation. This silence had its own movement, and it was penetrating into the depths, into every corner of the mind. Silence was the mind; the mind had not become silent. Silence had planted its seed in the very heart of the mind, and though the crows and the cocks were again heralding the dawn this silence would never end. The sun wag now coming up beyond the hills; long shadows lay across the earth, and the heart would follow them all day.

The woman who lived next door was quite young, and she had three children. Her husband would return from his office in the late afternoon, and after games they would all smile over the wall. One day she came with one of her children, purely out of curiosity. She hadn’t much to say, nor was there much to say. She talked of many things – of clothes, of cars, of education and drinking, of parties and club life. There was a whisper among the hills, but it disappeared before you could get to it. There was something beyond the words, but she hadn’t time to listen. The child became restless and fidgety.

‘I wonder why you waste your time on such people?’ he inquired as he came in. ‘I know her, a social butterfly, good at cocktail parties, with a certain amount of taste and money. I am surprised she came to see you at all. A sheer waste of your time, but perhaps she will get something out of it. You must know that type of woman: clothes and jewels, with primary interest in herself. I really came to talk about something else, of course, but seeing her here rather upset me. Sorry to have talked about her.’

A youngish man with good manners and a cultured voice, he was precise, orderly and rather fussy. His father was well-known in the political field. He was married and had two children, and was earning enough to make ends meet. He could make more money easily, he said, but it wasn’t worth it; he would put his children through college, and after that they would have to look after themselves. He talked about his life, the vagaries of fortune, the ups and downs of his existence.

‘Living in town has become a nightmare to me,’ he went on. ‘The noise of a big city bothers me beyond all reason. The rumpus of the children in the house is bad enough, but the roar of a city, with its buses, its cars and tram-cars, the hammering that goes on in the construction of new buildings, the neighbours with their blaring radios – this whole hideous cacophony of noise is most destructive and shattering. I can’t seem to adjust myself to it. It’s twisting my mind, and even physically it tortures me. At night I stuff something in my ears, but even then I know the noise is there. I’m not quite a ‘case’ yet, but I shall become one if I don’t do something about it.’

Why do you think noise is having such an effect on you? Are not noise and quietness related to each other? Is there noise without quietness? ‘All I know is that noise in general is driving me nearly crazy.’ Suppose you hear the persistent barking of a dog at night. What happens? You set in motion the mechanism of resistance, do you not? You are fighting the noise of the dog. Does resistance indicate sensitivity? ‘I have many such fights, not only with the noise of dogs, but with the noise of radios, the noise of children in the house, and so on. We live on resistance, don’t we?’

Do you really hear the noise, or are you only aware of the disturbance it creates in you, and which you resist? ‘I don’t quite follow you. Noise disturbs me, and one naturally resists the cause of one’s disturbance. Is not this resistance natural? We resist almost everything that is painful or sorrowful.’ And at the same time that is painful or sorrowful.’ And at the same time we set about cultivating the pleasurable, the beautiful; we don’t resist that, we want more of it. It’s only the unpleasant, the disturbing things that we resist.

‘But as I sad, isn’t this very natural? All of us do it instinctively.’ I am not saying it is abnormal; it is so, an everyday fact. But in resisting the unpleasant, the ugly, the disturbing, and accepting only what is pleasurable, do we not bring about constant conflict? And does not conflict make for dullness, insensitivity? This dual process of acceptance and opposition makes the mind self-centred in its feelings and activities, does it not?

‘But what is one to do?’ Let’s understand the problem, and perhaps such understanding will bring about its own action in which there is no resistance or conflict. Doesn’t conflict, inner and outer, make the mind self-centred and therefore insensitive? ‘I think I understand what you mean by self-centredness, but what do you mean by sensitivity?’ You are sensitive to beauty, are you not?

‘That’s one of the curses of my life. It’s almost painful for me to see something lovely, to look at a sunset over the sea, or the smile of a child, or a beautiful work of art. It brings tears to my eyes. On the other hand, I loathe dirt, noise, and untidiness. At times I can hardly bear to go out into the streets. The contrasts tear me apart inwardly, and please believe me, I am not exaggerating.’

But is there sensitivity when the mind takes delight in the beautiful and stands in horror of the ugly? We are not now considering what is beauty and what is ugliness. When there is this contrasting conflict, this heightened appreciation of the one and resistance to the other, is there sensitivity at all? Surely, wherever there is conflict, friction, there is distortion. Is there not distortion when you lean towards beauty and shrink from ugliness? In resisting noise, are you not cultivating insensitivity?

‘But how is one to put up with what is hideous? One cannot tolerate a bad smell, can one?’ There is the dirt and squalor of a city street, and the beauty of a garden. Both are facts, actualities. In resting the one, do you not become insensitive to the other? ‘I see what you mean; but then what?’ Be sensitive to both the facts. Have you tried listening to noise – listening to it as you would listen to music? But perhaps one never listens to anything at all. You cannot listen to what you hear if you resist it. To listen there must be attention, and where there is resistance there is no attention.

‘How am I to listen with what you call attention?’

How do you look at a tree, at a beautiful garden, at the sun on the water, or at a leaf fluttering in the wind? ‘I don’t know, I just love to look at such things.’ Are you self-conscious when you look at something in that manner? ‘No.’ But you are when you resist what you see.

‘You are asking me to listen to noise as though I loved it, aren’t you? Well I don’t love it, and I don’t think it’s ever possible to love it. You can’t love an ugly brutal character.’ That is possible and it has been done. I am not suggesting that you should love noise; but is it not possible to free the mind from all resistance, from all conflict? Every form of resistance intensifies conflict, and conflict makes for insensitivity; and when the mind is insensitive, then beauty is an escape from ugliness. If beauty is merely an opposite, it is not beauty. Love is not the opposite of hate. Hate, resistance, conflict do not engender love. Love is not a self-conscious activity. It is something outside the field of the mind. Listening is an act of attention, as observing is. If you do not condemn noise, you will find it ceases to disturb the mind.

‘I am beginning to understand what you mean. I shall try it as I leave this room.’