HUMAN EXPRESSIONS — WORDS, SOUNDS and SILENCE
The varieties of human expressions are almost infinite. There are the bodily expressions through face, eyes, limbs, fingers etc. There are also the expressions through voice such as talking, shouting, crying, singing etc. There is another whole range of expressions through dancing , writing, drawing, painting, sculpting, etching, weaving, building, crafting; and through various types of instruments and also through light and shades etc. In addition, there is the complex and exaggerated forms of expressions that combine a variety of these art forms, in an ingenious manner, to produce a sensitive or a stunningly spectacular , mammoth art or a commercial expression, whichever way you choose to look at it.
I am talking about theater or opera productions and films.
Each of these carries its sub-forms. It is virtually impossible to enumerate all the modes of human expressions. Most of these expressions have flowered into valid art forms. What I do not know of each of those can fill several Universities
As one who had to produce words to make a living I strived at writing a passably good prose in order to make myself understood. I am aware my prose does not measure up to “industry” standards. Poetry interested me a great deal, though I was incapable of writing any sort of poetry. Poetry appealed to the other side of my mind that longed to be lost amidst the flights of fantasy or loved to scale the peaks of idealism or to caress the tender graces of love. Listening to music was of course an experience of wandering in the land of delight. It is an art and an entertainment; closer to my heart.
As the years progressed, I realized there was another form of sublime expression that I had not meaningfully cultivated and it was ideally suited to exploring the Self. I am talking about silence. It is the silence of a kind I had not known before.
I realize Prose is the language of the mind, while poetry is the heart speaking through the medium of mind. The music, on the other hand, is the language of the heart. It emanates from heart and reaches the heart of the listener. These forms of expressions relate to the instruments of mind and heart. There is the human mind; the earth bound mind; ever judging and doubting the reality in others. But, we have also the loving and the aspiring heart; free from insecurity, eager to establish oneness with the rest of the world. Both of these – head and the heart – explore the known and the unknown, in their own way.
Silence of course is the most sublime and the ultimate form of expression. It transcends the limitations of the mind, thought, voice and the heart. It encompasses in itself all other forms of expressions. It is the language of the Soul.
Let us briefly talk about forms of expressions in prose, poetry, music and silence.
Here is the essence of mankind’s creative genius:
Prose is the lifeblood of the day to day living. It has the ability to produce concise descriptive expressions, to make life possible among our fellow beings. With the use of language and prose we grope toward understanding; and to , some degree , intelligently respond to what meets us in the lived world. But since we live more deeply than we can think, we are always short of appropriate expressions. That forces us to improvise,to innovate and to coin, each day, a new term to keep pace with the world streaking past us at breakneck speed. Keeping pace with the times is surely a true sign of a living and a dynamic language.
The growth of the language , however , is always regulated and governed by its grammar. The rigidity of grammar, the orderly structure and its disciplines are essential to preserve the identity and the purity of a language and its form.
A good prose aims at full expression within the limitations set by the grammar. Within that approved format a sentence is born of two elements: a thought and then a structure chosen out of an infinite number of possibilities which express the thought. It tries to present the ideas with lucidity and with slight ornamentation; to say it clearly and to make it beautiful, no matter what.
The test of a good prose is its ease and its readability leading you on from each sentence, paragraph and page to the next; not letting your interest wane. It not merely expresses a thought or a feeling that captivates you but succeeds in evoking a cascade of thoughts and emotions. For that reason, a good prose is comparable to music. A good book is worth reading not merely for the thought it contains but also for the thought which it inspires; just as the charm of music dwells not in the tones but in the echoes of our hearts. Inspire (from the Latin inspirare ) means to breathe life into another. As Gass once said, “Language serves not only to express thought but to make possible thoughts which could not exist without it.”
Once you have learned to trust your own voice and allowed that creative force inside you to come out, you can direct it to write short stories, novels, and essays and so on.
A good prose is essentially giving a lucid expression to a well composed mind. Prose is the language of the mind.
Poetry is a more liberated form of expression as compared to prose. One cannot easily define poetry. As Dr. Johnson exclaimed “Sir, what is poetry? Why, Sir, it is much easier to say what it is not. We all know what light is; but it is not easy to tell what it is.”
Poetry discards the rigidity, the disciplines and the correctness of the structure prescribed by the grammar. Poetry enjoys the voluptuous malleability and freedom with words and sounds; it bends and twists them in any number of ways. Its concern is not so much with the correctness of form than with the sensitivity, refinement and brevity in expression of a range of thoughts, feelings as also human emotions of joy, sorrow, grief, hope, despair, anger and fulfillment.
Poetry has the soft power to compress lengthy passages of prose into a few lines of wit and wisdom. That is the reason why some call poetry, life distilled.
Poetry can be subtle and suggestive. The imagery that poetry evokes can hardly be captured in words. What is unsaid in poetry is more evocative than the explicit. “Poetry is the opening and closing of a door leaving those who look through to guess about what is seen during a moment” as Carl Sandburg said.
Poetry has the power to set us free from the limited confines of our existence and personality. It is the language in which man explores his own amazement. Poetry represents the world as a man chooses to sees it, while science represents the world as he looks at it. It is the difference between seeing with the heart, and looking at the world unfeelingly. Poetry is Truth, but not necessarily reality.
Poetry is a search for syllables to express an unknown. It is direct and universal. It appeals to the heart. It finds its echo in another heart. Poetry is the heart talking through the mind.
Music is surely the most basic of human expressions and predates the written word. The melodic and rhythmic patterns are natural to humans and are tied to the unique expression of their various cultures. Music and man have influenced each other in a variety of ways, over the ages. Music and sound have infiltrated society on many levels, from sinister use in propaganda to simple listening pleasure. Our actions and emotional responses are greatly influenced by what we hear.
Music does not need a specific language and its sounds need not carry meanings to be enjoyed as such. Music is the language of languages and is the universal language of mankind. Music is the vernacular of the heart.
It can be internal and personal, or uniting and widespread. Everyone can and does participate in music; whether it is creating, listening, or simply singing or humming a tune. From an entire orchestra to a single whisper, memories, new ideas and a whole spectrum of feelings can be roused. Music may produce expressions of various emotions – peaceful, relaxing, exciting, festive, boring, unsettling, unstimulating, invigorating … and so on. We can close our eyes to escape from the visual world; even in silence we can hear breathing and the heartbeat, keeping the sense of rhythm that marks the progression of time.
Music is an extremely versatile medium of human expression. It is capable of exploring all the features that are used in verbal communication; and can go beyond. Its sounds carry no meaning; yet, give expression to sorrow, joy, peace and prayer in a manner the words are incapable of achieving.
Music can express itself directly and does not need the aid of explanations to reach the listener. For instance, when one writes the most often repeated set of words ”I love you”, it carries with it an infinite shades of meanings. The author has to, each time, prop this term with additional words to provide explanations to clarify which one of those meanings, his set of three famous words meant to say. The mere words “I love you” when written could mean: I like you, I desire you, I want you sexually, or even to mean I hate you. It could be a barely audible murmur full of surrender; a wish for emotional gratification; a heartfelt admiration; a hope for love relationship; a request for intimacy; a submissiveness, a begging to be accepted; a longing for comfort and tenderness; a conquest; a dry meaningless repetition; a mockery or charade; a whiplash of cruelty; or it could a deceit or anything else.
Music can expresses all these and more, spontaneously, without external aid. When words fail to express the sentiments and finer emotions of the human heart, music takes the place of the sublimated language. Moreover, it does so in an explicit and structured way, which makes it an interesting window into human understanding, in general. There is none that more powerfully moves and touches consciousness, than music.
Music is so ideally suited to express the worlds beyond petty human concerns. It can say that which cannot be said and that on which it is impossible to be silent.. It emanates from the heart and the success of it is ultimately in the heart of the listener. Music is such an experience. It is the language of the heart.
After silence that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.
Silence is sublime; and is the ultimate form of human expression. It envelops within itself all other forms of expressions. Every thought and every word is born out of silence, dies back into silence; and, during its life span is surrounded by silence. Silence lends the voice a space for it to reverberate. In silence resounds a voice;and , in voice silence finds its existence. Silence endows identity to thought and sound. Poetry consists in turning the invisible silence into perception and voice.
One cannot understand the value of silence unless one respects the validity of language, for the reality that waits to be expressed in language resides in silence. It would be impossible to think of a voice without thinking of silence; the two are inseparable. Voice and silence coexist in ones heart. If noise is the inner chaos , silence is the inner peace. That peace cannot be attained by letting one fight against the other. Peace and silence has to be attained gradually through continuous self discipline. The purpose of silence is to be able to see and hear clearly.
The silence we are talking about is not just the absence of sound; but it is the very space of our being and is with us every moment of our life. It transcends speech and thought. Silence also means silence from thoughts. There is something beyond mind that abides in silence. Silence is a quality; it is an experience. A silent mind, freed from slashing waves of thought and thought patterns is a more potent medium of understanding than words.
All religious traditions therefore stress the importance of being quiet and still in mind .They tell us that when mind is still , the Truth gets a chance to be heard in the purity of silence. They ask us to let-go all attachments, rather than fight noise. We are asked to let go of our thoughts, emotions and everything; and see what is left. We are asked to watch for that imperceptible interval of infinitesimal duration between thoughts; and seize that silence, hold on to that minute fraction in space and time and let the mind stay open. If we could do that, we are told, we are awake, at last.
Silence stabilized is fulfillment. That inner silence brings us in contact with the reality. It is that state of silence, stability and openness which transcends speech and thought, which we call meditation. Zen Masters tell us that the essence of living dwells in visiting that infinitesimal zone of stillness and silence again and again; and enlarging it. “Silence is the essential condition of happiness” said a Zen Master.
At the core of Sri Ramana’s teachings is silence. He said the inner silence is ever speaking, it is the everlasting eloquence punctured by thoughts and words; and it is the best language (Para Vac). What exists in truth is Self which resides where there is no “I” ; and that is silence, he said.
Our sages’ right from Sri Dakshinamurthi to Sri Ramana Maharsi and from the Buddha to the Zen Masters imparted knowledge through silence. Their silence underlined the limitations of rational knowledge, futilities of the blind alleys of metaphysical queries and the frailty hollowness of words. Where silence reigns supreme, words are rendered redundant. The language of their silence helped dispel the doubts, the confusion and uncertainties in the minds of those around them sitting in silence. Silence flows from the transcendent Self and speaks best for the enlightened.
Silence is the language of the soul