Columns, Opinion, Society

Celebrating the Silence

What would you really like to be doing right now? That’s a question we undoubtedly ask ourselves all the time.

I certainly do. My answers tend to be pretty typical: Traveling to somewhere I’ve never been. Interviewing someone who is deeply intriguing. Writing about a widely relevant topic. Maybe reconnecting with old friends.

But at times, I think to myself: “Nothing. I’d like to be doing absolutely nothing right now.”

These days, we are constantly bombarded by information and stimuli, pushing our bodies and minds to the limit – to the point where a sense of weariness is just a normal part of life. That’s why I was so interested when I saw an ad mentioning Nyepi in Bali.

On Saturday, March 21, people on this Indonesian island will celebrate Nyepi, or the “day of silence,” which is a Hindu tradition. From 6 a.m. to the same time on Sunday, the entire day and night will be dedicated to meditation, fasting and self-reflection. People will stay home. The airport and all parks and restaurants will be closed. Beaches will be empty. No traffic. No TV. No radio. No cellphones or lights or parties. No eating. No speaking. (Even people of other faiths in Bali dedicate the day to silence and meditation.)

Absolute silence and stillness for 24 hours on this idyllic island.

The only people working will be security officers, who will be making sure that Nyepi’s annual tradition of silence is upheld. (Even people of other faiths in Bali dedicate the day to silence and meditation.)

Nyepi, of course, goes against every notion of daily life in the West. Taking a day off from everyday distractions (and especially from electronic devices) in places like New York, Buenos Aires or Mexico City would be a living hell for many and unthinkable for most. Why? Because although being connected 24 hours a day is not the healthiest way to live, we’ve essentially become addicted to that connectivity.

Take our phones, for example. Most people I know sleep with their phones nearby. They set them on nightstands, usually in silent mode, to recharge. And the first thing most of us do after waking up is check our phones for messages, as if the world’s fate depended on it. (Full disclosure: I, too, sleep with my phone close at hand. I say it’s because I don’t want to miss any breaking news messages or emergency calls from my family, but those are just excuses for wanting the device to be within reach.)

Indeed, we can hardly stand to be without our phones. In fact, a recent study from the University of Missouri reported that test subjects felt anxiety, and even registered increases in heart rates and blood pressure, when they were not allowed to answer their phones while solving puzzles.

The comedian George Lopez recently pointed out to me that the one phrase people fear the most from their significant others is: “Give me your cellphone.” Our phones, after all, are where we all keep all our secrets, our passwords, the records of our connections in the world. These devices have become an essential part of who we are. Relinquishing them is understandably stressful.

However, in his recently published book, “The Art of Stillness,” Pico Iyer suggests that in these hectic days, when demands on our attention are coming from all sides, we should try to be still for as long as we can in order to rediscover some true peace and happiness.

“In an age of speed,” he writes, “I began to think, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.”

The key is to just sit still, focused on your breathing, for 10 minutes, for two hours – however long it takes for you to disconnect yourself from the outside and reconnect with the inside. Yes, I know it sounds New Age-y and impractical, and even a bit absurd. Who has time to do nothing these days?

Well, people in Bali do. At least they set aside time to do nothing once a year. And I don’t know a happier and more grateful people than the Balinese.

So the next time someone asks me what I would really like to be doing right now, I know the perfect answer: “Traveling to Bali to celebrate the silence on Nyepi.”

By Jorge Ramos Avalos.

(March 18, 2015)

Image by: George Redgrave

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Jorge Ramos has been the anchorman for Noticiero Univision since 1986. He writes a weekly column for more than 40 newspapers in the United States and Latin America, and provides daily radio commentary for the Radio Univision network. Ramos also hosts Al Punto, Univision’s weekly public affairs program offering analysis of the week’s top stories, and Fusion’s AMERICA with Jorge Ramos, a news program geared towards young adults. Ramos has won eight Emmy awards and is the author of ten books, most recently, STRANGER - The Challenge of a Latino Immigrant in the Trump Era.

A survey conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center found that Ramos is the second most recognized Latino leader in the country. Latino Leaders magazine chose him as one of “The Ten Most Admired Latinos” and “101 Top Leaders of the Latino Community in the U.S.”