When time stood still

When time stood still, what did you do? When time stood still, how did you feel? When time stood still, why did it feel unbearable?

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

These words from mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal have been playing on my mind. They won’t leave me in peace.

Gentle reader: When was the last time you felt true stillness?

I often wonder if I can ever fully appreciate those moments when time seems to stand still. I am forever nagged by an inner voice telling me that no matter what I am doing, there is something much more important that I really should be doing right now.

At all times, life seeks to get in the way of the messages that our senses are trying to send us. To sit quietly in a room alone should be the easiest thing in the world. But it can prove to be anything but easy.

If we heed the inner voice that seeks to distract our attention, we risk deadening our senses to the vital truths of the present moment.

Learn how to be deaf

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“I’ve got a little, uh… assignment for you. OK? I’ll provide a room for you. And there’s nothing that needs to be accomplished in this room. All I want you to do is just… sit. All I ask is if and when you cannot just sit, you turn yourself to the pen and paper that I’m gonna supply for you. And I want you to write. Doesn’t matter what you write, how you write, whether it’s spelled correctly. Or if it’s just a big mess. I don’t care. No one will read it, OK? But I want you to keep writing continuously without stopping until you feel like you can… sit again.”

These words are spoken by Paul Raci in Sound of Metal. This is a beautiful and surprising film.

Riz Ahmed plays Ruben Stone, a drummer whose world is torn apart by the abrupt loss of his hearing.* Ahmed’s performance is remarkable and subtle. He embodies the maelstrom of emotions Stone feels as the cycles of his life as touring musician, loving partner and recovering heroin addict are thrown into chaos. Aptly for a film concerning hearing loss, his expressions and body language do much of the talking.

Raci’s character Joe sets Stone the following task:

“Learn how to be deaf”.

The first step is the assignment outlined above, to try to sit quietly in a room alone without the aim of accomplishing anything. For Stone, this is at first unbearable. But it proves the key to everything. He must recognise and accept that he is in a new world, that his old ways of life are gone. Only then can he move forward.

I watched Sound of Metal the other day during a rare few hours completely to myself. I had no idea what to expect from this film, or what I would get out of it. So it was by bizarre coincidence that as I pressed play, I told myself that I was going to watch this film all the way through in one sitting. An impatient fidget by nature, this was a tall order for me. Hardly an existential struggle, of course. But I knew I would need to fight down and try to ignore the constant nagging voice telling me that something else – anything else – urgently needed my attention. Just as it always does, all day long.

It was a little difficult to settle in at first. But it proved a pleasure to sit quietly in a room alone with Sound of Metal.

The message that you truly need to hear

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“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” The stillness and the silence are always available to you. There are always lessons to be found there. If you can quiet the voice in your head, even for a moment, you might be able to tune into the message that you truly need to hear. This can feel challenging. But it is also likely to be the best thing you can do.

For many of us, time stood still during the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic is far from over, but many parts of the world are now taking faltering steps toward reopening. Our old ways of life tantalisingly beckon us back. The silence, the times when it felt as if time was standing still, could be drawing to an end.

It might have felt as if time had come to a halt, but had it really? Even when it felt like time was standing still, everything was still changing.

When time stood still, what did you do? When time stood still, how did you feel? When time stood still, why did it feel unbearable?

We must recognise and accept that we are in a new world, that our old ways of life are gone. Only then can we move forward.

FOOTNOTES

* The RNID is a charity that seeks to make life fully inclusive for deaf people and those with hearing loss or tinnitus. Find out more about their work and resources on the RNID website, consider making a donation to this excellent cause – and also try their free online hearing check.

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