Gnashing my teeth at the silence

“If you insist on gnashing your teeth you can gnash them at the wild waves, at the silent forest, or at the stony hills. One can get desperate here in a way that no city man understands. Sure, you can run amok . . . but where would it lead you? You can’t slash mountains to ribbons, nor cut the sky to pieces, nor flatten a wave with the broadest sword.” (146)

When you’re alone in nature, every feeling you have, every action you take, is met by silence. It’s different when you’re among people. People will respond to you, using their own words to encourage you, cheer you, judge you or condemn you.

These trees and mountains don’t judge – though sometimes they seem to. Your thought (perhaps you dared to speak it aloud, since you believed you were alone?) returns to you. You hear it: and it seems empty and vain in this vast silence.

In a sense, the trees and mountains are speaking to you. The silence of nature is a full silence, not a mere emptiness. Wordless waves crash, birds sing telepathic songs. The waves and skies seem able to take your words and repeat them back to you, they have nothing to add, content in their own sound and motion. Their indifference feels like acceptance. Nature accepts you for what you are. When in the city you feel beset, the indifference of rocks and trees can be a great comfort.

Uncompromising, nature tells its truth simply. Its truth is simplicity: live simply. If you’re unsure of something, ask your heart. If you find no answer, be silent a while and the answer will come. Let the trees speak: but don’t expect them to tell you if you’re right or wrong. Let the skies listen: but they will tell you nothing you cannot tell yourself. And when you’re ready to hear “the wisdom of the heart”, the heart will speak.

(The page number refers to Henry Miller, Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch, New Directions, 1957)

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