Alan Watts once said, “Before we decide either to save the planet or destroy it, we [should] pause for a moment of silence.” Watts was not referring to being quiet, as a tribute to those recently departed, but to the need for the absence of thought in order to experience reality as it is, rejecting the mental chatter that impedes our ability to truly be in touch with the world. Until recently, it seemed impossible that our world could collectively stop its downward spiral toward a self-created extinction; it seemed as if we were never going to take that pause—not even while fires burned throughout Australia or ice sheets cracked apart in Antarctica.
We have been living in such contradictory circumstances. It was not until an invisible entity brought us down to our knees in fear that we finally came to Watt’s pause. It has taken something unseen to help us begin to see each other again. The present confinement has caused an acceleration of collective self-reflection. For those confined without the ability to nourish themselves through an immersion in nature, the world has closed in rapidly. This has reminded me of the invisible variables in architecture. A designed garden is enhanced by outside natural conditions; the sound of a brook running outside the garden makes it a perfect place to nap. Without this natural soundscape, the invitation would not be as enticing.
In the summer of 2015, I took a workshop in New York City that altered my perception of deep listening. Led by Ernesto Pujol, the social choreographer, I learned that silence is a requisite to cultivating empathy, and that mindfully inhabited spaces can shelter us from the noise that humans can’t seem to stop making. Pujol is an artist of extraordinary humility. I have been humbled and honored to learn more intimately about his practice of engaging others creatively. I have grown convinced that his methodology should be an essential requirement for all architecture students and practitioners. “Are you aware of the authority you take on, of the moral authority you need to take on, unapologetically, when you tell a society that it needs to be more empathic, when you invite a people to take a pause?” Pujol’s statement has stayed with me since that life changing workshop, where I had to delve deep within to find the nourishing solace of silence. In continuation of our talk, posted earlier this week, my last question was deeply relevant to our present circumstances.
RK: Rori Knudston
EP: Ernesto Pujol
After the pandemic recedes, how would you advise we occupy public space again together?
We should return to public space trying to shed our cult of speed and overused technology. We have been running across public space on our phones, distracted and anxious, talking and texting. We have sadly become increasingly blind to public spaces, merely using them as corridors for our fantasies. We need to reenter public spaces as people who have recovered their senses, their vision and hearing. We need to reenter architecture as reentering the sacred, more aware than ever of how these public spaces were built to physically gather us, valuing their connective role more than ever before.
People have been noticing clearer skies during their quarantine, brighter stars, because of the drop in traffic emissions and industrial pollution. They have been increasingly noticing and listening to the sound of birds, because of the drop in human noise. As you said, people have also been noticing each other. Our quarantine has forced us to reach out to others, not to achieve anything careerwise, but to show them we care. We need to hold on to this moment of clarity and love. It should mark a revolution of perception, the reclaiming of our natural perception, which can sustain our health and that of the Earth.
I would love to do an interactive exercise for readers. I think you already laid out some of this on your Facebook posts.
I would invite your readers to consider holding a day of silence weekly. Below are some basic instructions:
Commit to a full day of silence.
Please tell everyone in your life about it,
so that everyone supports your silence.
Then, plan it mindfully, step by step.
Wake up that day in absolute silence.
Spend the morning in solitude, if possible.
Stretch, eat healthy, and read something special.
Afterward, if you can keep a healthy social distance,
take a silent walk in the park, along water, or through wildness.
Do not shop. Do not bring your phone.
Walk without technology, as only a body.
Seek a no-thought mind during your slow walk.
Get lost if you can. You’ll find your way back.
Seek to see without thoughts, opinions, or ideas.
See and hear like an open vessel, without judging,
ready and able to surrender and accept difference,
the unfamiliar, the new and unknown.
Come home to pause, and then write about it.
Commit to thought what you just experienced.
Writing is a form of thinking, quite clarifying.
Fast a little if you can. Fast until evening.
Drink water and nap. Read some more,
and then eat a nutritious meal.
Go to sleep early, and then wake up the next day
to share about yesterday with your close friends.
Consider how you want to end your silence.
Who is the first person you wish to speak to?
The second and the third? A chosen group?
Or do you wish to end your silence
by listening to your own voice singing
or reading something softly, out loud?
Or perhaps you wish to hold to your silence a little longer
letting it end organically, watching and waiting for someone
to call you, as a witness to your own mindful process.
Featured image: “Labor of Love” (with Lesley Dill), The Noguchi Museum, New York, 2014. Photo by Ernesto Pujol.