For many years I lived in a village. I worked there, socialised there, shopped there, walked in forests there. My life was fully lived there.
More recently having a period of time living in a city has been illuminating.
On my morning walks around the streets I sometimes wondered if the traffic could ever become my bird song and would the concrete accept my feet as the soft forest floor once did.
As I walked past the tram stops with pavements full of workers off to jobs in the central city I noticed what felt to me like a ‘dead space’. Space where the possibility, for either being in companionable silence or connecting through conversation if it was desired, was dead.
Usually only one person out of about fifteen standing was ever looking up taking in the surroundings. Every one else was looking down at their smart phones and most in the huddle had headphones on.
There seemed to be no potential for communication with each other. The headphones especially were utterly effective as a ‘don’t talk to me‘ signal.
Silence between human beings can be a wonderful thing. I have been on many meditation retreats where silence is definitely a connecting factor. A ‘sensing in’ to each other happens not with words but with eye contact and heightened awareness of a very alive shared space, not limited by ‘me’, ‘mine’, ‘I’.
In that sort of silence, the beauty of the thinning of the skin of separateness is usually enhanced.
I thought of the banter that could easily happen at a village bus stop. In the space opened up by pleasantries there is the potential at least for any tentative request for human connection to be met.
In the city and surrounds I noticed these headphones are almost an extended part of people’s anatomy. They are used everywhere …..on the street whilst walking, in shops sometimes right up to the point of purchase, even sometimes in groups of friends traveling together.
I became curious about what comfort they give.
If they delivered a phone call to, or from a loved one, or friend or family member I can imagine that would provide comfort enough for some to ride silently with a sea of strangers swelling through the city streets.
Perhaps music or podcasts that heighten the senses and bring colour to the journey on the way to potentially grey work were being delivered through the earpiece.
Or were these headphones a useful tool for work to be done….. a multi-tasking life spilling out of the office space.
I find technology a boon at times in my life, opening up access to wonderfully stimulating and illuminating spaces. Yes, it can bring enrichment and connection.
But what happens in our minds and hearts when constant entanglement in the world wide web leaves no space for musing, reflecting, wondering or connecting with others in situ?
Traveling back home on a tram one day, the ratio of heads down was about what I had come to expect …of about twenty people on the tram only three were not engaged with their phones. Fourteen people had headphones on.
On the seat across from me an Indian woman sat clutching a child’s bike and an old fashioned printed map page. She looked nervously up at every crossroad searching to see what the name of each road was.
I could see her deep brown eyes and even though she didn’t notice me looking it was easy to have a ‘sense’ of her as a fellow human being.
I knew she hadn’t travelled in this area before and I could sense the journey she was on was important to her. There was a reason she didn’t want to miss the street she was looking for.
This space of unknown person and story was tangibly alive and it made me smile in a way the ‘dead space’ never did.
I stood up as the stop closest to my current home came up. She stood up too and deftly moved to get the bike off the tram in the allotted few minutes.
As soon as she had disembarked her head was down looking at the map in her hands, searching for her destination. There was no sign that she might ask anyone for help.
Perhaps she too had grown accustomed to the dead space.
Although I had begun to walk away I suddenly turned back to ask her…
“Do you need some help?”
Her face lit up and she said “Oh, yes I am trying to find Piera st?”
“That’s where I live. Come with me.”
As we walked together she told me she was going to the bike shop in my street to have the bike fixed up as a present for her son. We chatted away and by the end of our journey she knew about why I had moved to the city and about the Melbourne Buddhist Centre and I knew about her husband and son being in India visiting family in their village and how important that bike would be to her son.
After parting ways at the bike shop I realised the gift I had been given that day was the knowledge that it only takes one person to move into a ‘dead space’ to find life 🙂