Today is Remembrance Sunday. Thousands will watch its coverage on the BBC, including a few moments of silence to contemplate those who have died in wars or have been affected by wars and conflicts the world over.
Libby Brooks wrote an interesting piece for the Guardian a while ago:
The transfiguring qualities of silence and solitude
In today’s clamouring climate, two minutes’ remembrance can feel awkward. But the ability to be quiet is vital to our wellbeing
For [John] Cage, the imposition of silence on an audience was an act of subversion: 4’33”, which premiered in 1952, was his response to the aural bombardment of postwar urban America. More than half a century on, the daily soundscape for the majority of city dwellers and techno-adherents is more cluttered than ever. The call to collective silence at times of national tragedy or remembrance has become a familiar convention but, in practice, can feel as awkward or contrived as it does reverent.
Why do we so often have our best, most elevated and most productive thoughts when we’re alone, silent, and simply sitting, walking, showering, etc? The ability to pay attention to our internal feedback systems and allow intuitive thoughts to surface is crucial for wellbeing. For thousands of years Taoists, Hindus, Buddhists, humanists, etc have stressed the importance of “just sitting, doing nothing”. So why do we allow so many of our young people to go through our school systems and remain ignorant of the true value of meditation? Levels of creativity, intelligence, academic performance, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse can all be affected by training in meditation. The David Lynch Foundation even advocates the use of meditation techniques in bringing peace to the world.
Even in the noisiest and busiest city a quiet place can be found. The noise of our individual minds can be far more disturbing. The mind cannot be completely tamed: disturbing thoughts, fear, anger, rage, blaming, can rise at any time, and often do. Many spiritual teachers tell us that identifying with those thoughts is the trap, and so we should let them rise and float away, refuse to follow them, and certainly not allow ourselves to become overwhelmed by them.
The key is always awareness. When the mind is entered by some unwelcome thoughts, simply return to here and now. Even when the mind is pleasantly daydreaming, consciously return to the present moment. When we repeat this process of noticing our thoughts and then deliberately returning to the immediate moment thousands of times over we sharpen our self-awareness.
This current moment should be lived without blaming, judging, comparing, projecting and belittling. This should be our true nature, and it’s important for us to become aware of it.
It’s a beautiful, bright morning in London, and a good day to consider the importance of meditation, awareness, love, creativity and humour.
The Cenotaph in Whitehall, London has played host to the Remembrance Service for the past nine decades.
Originally intended as a small part of the Peace Day events of July 1919, The Cenotaph was designed and built by Edwin Lutyens at the request of the then Prime Minister Lloyd George.
The Cenotaph – which literally means Empty Tomb in Greek – was initially a wood and plaster construction intended for the first anniversary of the Armistice in 1919. At its unveiling the base of the monument was spontaneously covered in wreaths to the dead and missing from The Great War. It was later decided that The Cenotaph should become a permanent and lasting memorial.
The Cenotaph was deliberately placed in Whitehall, right outside the Foreign Office, near to the entrance to Downing Street, as a reminder to the people who run this country that wars of aggression are inherently evil, that wars should be fought only as a last resort, and even then should be fought in ways that avoid the unnecessary slaughter of civilians and service personnel alike.
So much for the theory. 1968 was the only year since the Cenotaph was constructed in which our military were not engaged in warfare, somewhere or other. The year of peace and love. The year of wearing flowers in our hair.