As I took a walk one morning, I tried to identify the flowers and trees in the neighborhood, and found myself humbled by my meagre botanical knowledge. A bird or two chirped nearby, and I tried my best to enjoy the quiet by zoning out the drone of the constant hum of traffic from the main road. I looked up at a tree that I loved, a Gingko tree, and sat myself down nearby watching the suns life giving rays upon a garden just watered. The tiny water droplets refracted the suns rays, and the world around me felt magical.
As if to complete this picture of serenity, two butterflies danced into view. Their dance around the flowers on that sunlit morning with the rays of the sun coming in through the Gingko trees leaves was enough to mesmerize anyone, and I found myself smiling and lapsing into a contented silence. It is not often that I get to slow life down enough to sit and watch butterflies in the garden. In those few blissful moments, I experienced the beautiful concept of Ma. Ma is the Japanese concept signifying the space between moments, and is a practice in the Zen art of being present in the moment. Ma is the pause between sounds.
Ma is beautifully explained in the children’s book written by Katrina Goldsaito and Illustrated by Julia Kao titled, The Sound of Silence.
In the book, Little Yoshio looks for the sound of silence after he hears an old koto player on the street tell him that her favorite sound is the sound of ma, of silence. Intrigued, Yoshio looks for the sound of silence in the streets of the city around him, he looks for it in the bamboo garden, but finds other noises are constantly present, and is wondering whether he can ever find Ma.
Then one morning, he enters his school earlier than usual and immerses himself in a book, he experiences it for the first time. “Suddenly in the middle of a page, he heard it. No sounds of footsteps, no people chattering, no radios, no bamboo, no kotos being tuned. In that short moment, Yoshio couldn’t even hear the sound of his own breath. Everything felt still inside him. Peaceful, like the garden after it snowed.”
The butterflies cavorted higher and higher and then swooped down with joy to the lavender patch. I let my mind flitter about like the creatures I was watching. Reflecting upon life is increasingly becoming a luxury, I thought to myself. I had just finished reading Fahrenheit 451, and could not help thinking of some of the things in the book that Ray Bradbury had the foresight of seeing 50-60 years ago, long before we were addicted to technology and lured by the concept of busyness. Fahrenheit 451 talks about a future in which all books are burned by firemen. (451 F is the temperature at which book paper burns. )
People live in homes where the Televisor is on all 4 walls, signifying constant stimulation. One fireman is curious to see what is there in the books that those who love it so much are even willing to die to keep them. He steals a random book here and a book there with every burning, and he tries his best to make sense of it, but is unable to grasp the beauty of random poetry. He tracks down one person whose books he had burned and asks him to explain. Excerpt from the book below:
“Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we may forget. There is nothing magical in them at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched patches of the universe together into one garment for us. 3 things are missing
Number one: Quality, texture of information. They show the pores in the face of life
Number Two: Leisure”
“Oh, but we have plenty of off hours.”
“Off hours yes. But time to think? If you’re not driving a 100 miles an hour, at a clip where you can’t think of anything else but the danger, then you’re playing some game or sitting i some room where you can’t argue with the four wall televisor. Why? The televisor is real. It in immediate, it has dimension. It tells you what to think and blasts it in. It must be right. It seems so right. It rushes you on so quickly to its own conclusions your mind hasn’t time to protest, ‘What nonsense?’
Summing up, he says the books give you three things:
Number one: quality of information.
Number two: leisure to digest it.
And number three: the right to carry out actions based on what we learn from the interaction of the first two.
Complement with Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury
From Botany to Ma and Fahrenheit 451, I was flitting about like a butterfly myself, and could not have asked for a more pleasurable show in my head had I planned the thing.