The Silence that Speaks
I don’t particularly like it when I am referred to as a crime writer or a mystery writer. Those words put the emphasis on a novel’s plot, and I don’t write plot-dominant stories. I write stories about the relationships between people, some of whom might be engaged in actions that include murder or another crime.
Crimes are a great way to put a character under maximum pressure. Under pressure, our true natures are revealed. And only through an examination of our true natures can we (and our fictional characters) grow and evolve. An unexamined life is not worth living or worth reading.
My goal with the Ryan DeMarco Mystery series is to follow DeMarco on his own spiritual journey through a course of demanding events—whether murder investigations, romantic and other relationships, betrayals, losses, even brushes with death—that will force him to assess not only his true nature but the true nature of reality. He is at an age when human beings do that kind of thing. Carl Jung called it the stage of Spirit, the fourth and final stage of life. It is when we realize that our lifetimes of accomplishments and our possessions are not all we are. We are more than that. In this stage we become the observers of our lives and learn to view life from a different perspective. These are the years of wisdom—if, indeed, we are equipped to receive it.
DeMarco is an inherently compassionate person, but for a long time his thoughts were filled with the noise of anger and guilt that interferes with spiritual development. One of the most important things a person can do for him/herself is to court and cultivate the silence that speaks. In the novel series, with the help of Thomas Huston, Jayme, and his love of nature, DeMarco is learning to listen to that silence. This is also an essential facility for any writer who hopes to produce more than merely escapist stories.
So what is the silence that speaks? None of the world’s scientific geniuses has ever been able to explain how brain chemicals and electrical impulses produce ideas. That’s because they don’t. We know that the physical brain is somehow associated with consciousness—the mind and its infinite creativity—probably as a receiver of some kind, a filter and storage compartment. But we also know, from tens of thousands of documented and corroborated personal experiences, that an individual’s consciousness can continue to function (often even more keenly) when the brain is clinically dead. So it is clear that the physical brain does not create ideas or any other facet of what we call consciousness. They originate from the silence that speaks, that vast reservoir of consciousness and creativity that permeates everything.
Einstein claimed that imagination is the highest human faculty. Max Planck, the father of quantum physics, was among the first contemporary scientists to understand that mind, i.e consciousness, precedes and in fact creates the illusion of matter. J.K. Rowling, during a train ride, experienced a spontaneous flood of imagination that gave birth to the entire Harry Potter opus, the highest-selling fiction series in history. Spiritual masters from the beginning of time have been inspired and guided by knowledge that seemed to come to them out of the silence.
My best ideas have always come to me unbidden during some non-thinking activity, such as meditating, dreaming, washing the dishes, mowing the yard, walking in the woods, taking a shower, or riding my motorcycle. At such times, brain activity is low, especially in the neo-cortex, the reasoning, analyzing part of the brain. Several studies show that low activity in that region of the brain is associated with heightened states of consciousness. I belief that the state of non-thought Taoists call wu-wei allows us to “hear” inspiring whispers that have no relationship to personal experiences. This is the magic of creative thought. It often possesses some deeper, indescribable quality that will not yield to analysis or logic.
In The Book of Embraces, Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano introduced a word for that quality, coined by fisherman along the Colombian coast: sentipensante, the language that speaks the truth, and does so not through thinking, not through analysis and reason, but through feeling. Love, I think, is sentipensante. As is joy. That exultant sense of gratitude and hope bequeathed by a sunrise or a star-filled night. That profound bond between a parent and child that cannot be articulated nor even understood unless one has experienced it.
This is the quality I sense every time the silence speaks. Not just the beauty of cadence and rhythm and image, which I attempt to build into my prose, but the beauty of an inexpressible truth. When Hemingway stated that the job of the writer is to write “one true sentence,” this, I think, was what he meant. From that truth, everything else will follow.
And that’s where DeMarco has landed in Book #3, A Long Way Down. He is learning not to worry so much. Not to feel so guilty about his past or to feel responsible for all of the sadness in the world. And to understand that there is a greater reality of which the physical one is but a fragment.
I can’t wait to see where he ends up in Book #4!