Is boredom necessarily a negative experience? Often we view boredom with a certain distaste or dread, which leads to the conclusion that it is not good to be bored. Yet, if probed more deeply, this distaste might reveal itself as fear, perhaps a fear of silence or the absence of entertainment.
Why do we fear silence and what about it do we fear? Since fears are often irrational, we must consider whether this is a sensible fear, and if so, whether it is worthwhile to act in obedience to this fear. I think the fear of silence is increasingly prevalent in a world dominated by noise. The more normal it becomes to live with this “noise” as our constant companion, the less likely we are to recognize the fear of silence as fear at all. It might instead be defined positively as a desire for stimulation or some more productive and efficient use of time.
Yet we are losing something inestimably important when we simply let silence slip out of the equation and repress the fear that forbids its existence. Silence can be connected to openness, to self, and to being. I want to discuss openness first. Silence necessarily involves space and time, space and time that are unfilled though they have the capacity to be filled. This can be looked at both negatively and positively, and for now, I am just going to speak about the former. Openness can be seen as negative because it is unpredictable. Something that is unfilled could become filled with anything, whether desired or undesired. Such a something also lacks a fixed structure or predetermined shape. This ties into our terror of the unknown. We constantly grasp after control- we want to be able to control and manage our lives and to do so with certainty. But silence necessarily requires that we relinquish some measure of control, that we are open to the moment that is itself open. Silence can surprise us; it can deviate from our desires.
It’s hard to recall my first encounter with hockey. I have memories of watching the game when I was young. It was background noise then but in a comforting sort of way. My dad would lean forward, eyes focused on the screen, and I would glance up occasionally from my book to catch sight of the tiny figures darting back and forth from one end of the rink to the other. The rules were irrelevant to me (in other words, I didn’t understand them). I simply tried to follow the progress of the puck, though sometimes a black speck on the surface of the screen looked so convincingly puck-like that it prevented my fulfillment of this goal.
When my older brother started playing hockey, I became his number one fan. For the ten years that he played, I don’t think I missed a single game. In the early seasons, I was admittedly oblivious to much of the action on the ice. I arrived at the arena with my fully stocked bag of books. But even then, something about the rink was so alluring. I don’t know what it was about the cold hard bench or the loud echo of the boards, or the angry buzzer that announced each period’s end. I don’t know why I felt such joy as my voice blended with the other fans to give a rousing cheer, or why I waited so proudly for my brother to emerge from the dressing room after each game, his hockey bag draped over his shoulder. As my family walked to the parking lot, I had the honour of holding the hockey stick, and it was like a waving flag. I don’t know what it was, but somehow each little detail melded together until the rink felt like home and the game- the game was ingrained in my nature.
I often find myself preoccupied by noise. This can be a problem, because our world is saturated with noise in many ways. We rarely can achieve that pure and perfect silence, whether we seek it, or strive to avoid its searching depths. There is almost always something going on in the background. Sometimes they are deliberate sounds, like music, and sometimes they are incidental, intertwined with everyday life. Cars whiz by on nearby roads; drilling slices through the air from the interminable construction work always going on somewhere in the neighbourhood…
There is always noise: people talking, people walking, even the noises that nature imposes on a sterile silence, like birds chattering and wind rustling through trees and rain pricking softly against the slicked black pavement. Here, the words of the Grinch spring to mind (if you’ll pardon the not-yet-seasonal reference): “Noise, noise, noise!”
For me, fear has always been such an omnipresent and unavoidable participant in life. Between fear and love, there is a constant struggle, a struggle that seems as though it will be ever ongoing, never complete, until the ultimate end. And yet, it has been said that “perfect love casts out fear.” I think we all have an idea of what this means, and simply reading the words provides a certain level of comfort. But how far does this “perfect” love extend, and how permanent is this banishment of fear? Is it truly possible to “cast out” fear while in the transient and shifting world, or is it only a promise for another world to come?
I think it can be both, and that there are often unexplored depths to the profound relationship between love and fear. On a first and fundamental level, “perfect love” refers to God. Since God is love, any genuine display of love reveals part of His nature. Because of this, we can turn to Him and in His presence, experience the divine love, the “perfect love” that is stronger than and has no need of fear. This is the only way in which we can truly vanquish fear, or any kind of evil. By placing ourselves in God’s hands, the fear no longer belongs. It is no longer necessary. We can see clearly the distance between lies produced by fear, and Truth. Within these moments of clarity, fear is exposed for its powerlessness.
Can you sacrifice yourself, your own insecurities, comfort, worries, feelings of worthlessness… in order to add to the happiness of someone you love? Which has more power: love or fear? You want to believe that love is stronger, that choosing love can always shut out fear, and that this pursuit of love and sacrifice allows God to enter and work through you in ways beyond your small self and those ever-floating fears. Well, then, you must act “as if” the love is stronger; you must reach out in love as though there are the everlasting arms beneath to catch you should you fall in stepping out of the comfortable for the sake of love, in that perfect love which casts out fear.
This cannot be done by love focused only on the person in question, but by loving the divine presence in the person and the way in which it is uniquely manifested in this image of beauty. No person is perfect, or fully worthy of love and sacrifice, just as your love and sacrifice are imperfect and still motivated by self-desire, even in striving for selflessness. But if this love is channeled through the flow of divine love and sacrifice, the movement of the spirit and its reflection of perfection have transformative power. As such, love is able to move, change and grow, while fear is capable of nothing save stagnation. Fear limits your movements, places false boundaries on your freedom and potential for love, joy and peace, and the deepest fulfillment of your selfhood.
How are you feeling today?
It’s a question we ask often. It’s a question we think about often. How do you feel? How am I feeling? Feelings of sadness or anger or worry. We are happy or joyful or filled with future fear. We feel so much. Too much. Too deeply.
Feelings are fickle. They swirl and brood and weigh upon our minds. But they do not last. They never last. The feelings flee before long; they fade in the face of new feelings… new emotions taking their place.
And yet feelings affect us profoundly. These temporary flights of fancy can shake us to our very core. Why? Why do feelings have such power? I have been thinking about this lately. Feelings aren’t always negative. Sometimes their power is harnessed for goodness and beauty. Feelings of happiness and warmth may overflow and lead us to be loving and kind. But do we have any control over when we feel happy? Do we control our feelings or do our feelings control us?
I never want to forget about beauty.
I never want to forget about light- any kind of light… the way it gleams through cracks in doorways and glistens through the blinds. Colours dancing on the walls, and soft and peaceful shades. I don’t want complacency to keep me seated and sure in things in which I have found nothing before.
Even when joy flickers on my eyelids, I blink and only darkness. Only for a second. But I let the evil enter. I listen. I let it shade my solitude, allow it access to my thoughts. I want to control or to ignore it. Control is fleeting, because I cannot attain it, though I try with endless run-throughs and sickly waves of guilt. Ignorance is no better, for it smothers my joy, holds her back just a little. It puts restrictions on my freedom, imposes limits on my peace.
This is not the life I want. This is not the choice I want to make.
What do we have? What do we have, really, when it’s all taken away? What is left? What remains in the ruins of the things that once were ours but now elude our grasp?
The thought is daunting. The idea that the world on which we lean and the things around which our lives are built are temporary. Fleeting. They will pass. Not just things but people. Feelings. Thoughts. Moments. Dreams and hopes. Disheartening perhaps. That’s what it is. Peeling back the outer layers is painful, and what’s more, it exposes the shell underneath. For that is all that’s left. This tiny forlorn shell that is self. All we really have and all we are.
I’m not trying to be unnecessarily negative. I’m not trying to be realistic either. This tiny shell to me is full of hope. In fact, this shell is truth. It is not hollow and it cannot be shaken or broken down. When all the cloaks which cover it are stripped away, the shell can be stripped down no further.
The hardest thing in life is learning to be your own person. The world proclaims the glory of the self-made man, of the almighty individual. We learn that life is something you must do alone, that who you are is less important than what you make of it, and that this outcome is entirely dependent on your own merits and efforts.
No wonder self-discovery is so difficult. What a horrible place to live: beneath the pressure and the condemning whispers, beneath our own weaknesses, since our merits and efforts inevitably lead to failure. I am afraid to become this kind of person, because I know alone I am not enough. But learning to be your own person does not involve overcoming this fear of individuality; it involves turning to the source of our true identity and individuality.
What would a life look like without fear?
I don’t pretend to have the answer.
I have frequently fallen victim to fear, disarmed by its silent attacks, a prisoner of the worries it spins out of empty air. I have been tentative, tiptoeing around the fears I have buried, anticipating shadows surely lurking in wait. Fear is a presence I know well, the kind of enemy that, once eradicated, never stays away for long.
No. I’m not entirely sure what a life looks like without fear.
But I know that I want to find out.