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THE SILENCE BEHIND THE WORDS

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The silence Heidegger refers to here is not the absence of speaking, but rather the space from which one is listening. And the “rich self-awareness” is not an understanding of one’s own personality, but a grasp of our fundamental essence as human beings. The Zen Masters of ancient Japan referred to this essence as sunyata, absolute nothingness, which is at the silent core of all existence including the heart of what we are as human beings. Here again is Heidegger: “This silence is language; it can be much more expressive than any words. It is the original alignment of one existence with another, which language allows to come into being. Only because man is capable of such silence is he also capable of authentic speaking. If he ceases to be rooted in this silence all his speaking becomes mere chatter.”

Human beings have always faced serious problems. But for the first time in our history as a species these problems are existential. Nuclear annihilation and environmental collapse, for example, carry the possibility of extinction. They are the kinds of problems that can only be solved by working together. And therein lies the difficulty. To work together requires genuine communication, which in turn requires thinking rather than thoughting. It is not a question of how sincere we are as we communicate, but rather how aware we are of where we are speaking and listening from. Conscious conversations are conversations rooted in that silence, which is not the silence between the words, but the silence behind them.

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