The Second Eclectic

Technology changes how we relate to God and each other

The Noise and the Desert

A new day, a new post.

Over the weekend, I picked up the movie The Four Feathers again. I've seen it once, forgot most of it, and enjoyed it anew. Those are the blessings of unmemorable movies.

Much of the movie takes place in the Sahara desert--if my geography is correct--in the Sudan. The British are trying to maintain imperial power there.

But, the movie has little to do with this post. I was watching the "Special Features" and there was one about "The Mystery of the Desert." The director of the film, Shekhar Kapur, recounted his experience of the desert prior to filming The Four Feathers. He sought to understand the spirit or meaning of the desert in order to do it justice on screen. He wanted to know better the characters who wandered through it lost and alone. He says:

I was alone in the desert...truly lost. I saw nothing. I heard nothing. You have no idea what the desert does to you...All, after a while, I could hear was the sound of my breathing and, if I walked, the crunching of the ground or the sand underneath my feet. No other sound. And I looked around and there was nothing.

Few of us have ever been so alone. I haven't. There's always noise in the distance. Go outside. Listen. Really. You'll hear car-tires humming against the highway, a siren somewhere, an engine, a jet. You won't hear nothing. What is it like to be so alone?

I think many of us are glad not to know. Kapur goes on:

I suddenly realized what the desert does. If you can get over the fear of being alone, suddenly your mind explodes because there is no external sensory perception. And when all that is taken away from you...only the internal becomes alive. You have no choice but to listen inside.

I would imagine that those who read blogs and write blogs tend to have a somewhat lively internal life. I think, too, that we tend to think ourselves distinct and superior for such a quality. Somehow, I can't believe that people aren't introspective to some degree, having thoughts about themselves, new ideas, whatever. I think people run the spectrum from low internal activity to high internal activity. Still, I believe those on the low end are capable of big ideas too.

That aside, I think there is a difference between the internal lives most of us have experienced and what Kapur is speaking of. It's not simply about thinking your own thoughts; it's about coming face to face with yourself. Seeing yourself more accurately, objectively, dispassionately, clearly. It's about recognizing your flaws and failures and pretenses that all the noise allows you to ignore.

Noise allows us to choose when we will have peace. It gives us the ability to control what thoughts consume us and what thoughts we brush past. Noise shelters us from the insights we don't want to dwell on. Noise becomes our solitude. It insulates us. It lets us escape from ourselves. When we choose peaceful moments, that time is taken with enough mental energy to drive back the terrible reminders of what we know. And we escape from peace back into noise before that mental and emotional energy runs out.

But the desert is long and dry. It lasts beyond our mental stamina. It doesn't end before we come face to face with our real selves. We must face ourselves, consider our demons. We all naturally think about ourselves, but was also choose when not to think about ourselves. And we do so because it helps us maintain false beliefs about ourselves. In both, our selfishness is evident. The Paradox: we choose to not think about ourselves because we are most concerned with ourselves.

But Kapur realized, "Being in the desert, it forces you to think about yourself."

We must all face the desert.