The Silent Zone


Have you ever been in conversation with someone and for whatever strange, inexplicable reason, the little voice in your head goes ‘What if….’ and then starts to wander away - one little random thought at a time? Sort of like you’re there physically, but mentally absent. Slowly, one thing leads to another, and  you sort of zone out.  

And by the time you realise that the other person is still talking, you have no idea what the topic is anymore. Suddenly you find yourself thinking that you need to find a way back into this conversation. So you force your brain to zone back in and desperately try to catch hold of a single word or phrase that will open the gates for you to jump right back in. And then you hear a completely off-key word - like diapers or rotis or holidays or something absolutely random - and try to grab on to that like a non-swimmer clutches their floatation device. Of course, the other problem is that the speaker is yet to realise that you’ve zoned out. So while continuing to play word association with the stray word that your mind is now fixated upon, you are also trying hard to keep a straight face. Perhaps, that's how the great Indian ‘head-bob’ originated. Sort of like saying, “I have no clue what you’re saying but hey, I’m nodding appreciatively to show that I’m listening".


Anyway, I digress. Much like I did in that conversation scenario above.


But zoning out is one thing. There are days when I feel like Dory. Yes, the infamous Pacific Blue Tang fish from Finding Nemo, who was voiced by Ellen DeGeneres (I love Ellen! She’s hilarious. See how I’m frequently digressing?). Like I’d walk into a particular room and then forget why I did that in the first place. Or open up the fridge door and stare inside, my mind completely blank. With these sort of things happening, I’m sure the day isn’t far where I’d walk up to the trash can with a bag of rubbish and dump my iPhone in there instead.


See, I’ve always been a procrastinator of sorts -  if procrastination ever became an Olympic sport, I would get the Gold medal for putting things away for another day.  But recently, I’ve also started to notice that I’m becoming increasingly absent-minded.


They say that the first step to correcting something is knowing what’s wrong. And while I’ve been trying my hardest to concentrate on things, I also admit that I’ve sort of let ‘technology’ screw me over. So, despite all the affinity that I have for technology and gadgets, I whole-heartedly blame it for my present ADD-like situation. I mean, here we all are, surrounded by a world that is constantly pinging and chiming for our attention and making sure that we are no longer concentrating on one thing at a time. While the advertisers and marketeers may categorise it as multi-tasking, it’s far from the truth. The reality is that all it is doing is distracting you from the task that you set out to complete.


But like two sides to every coin, I cannot help but admit that technology is also an integral part of our day-to-day life. So as much as I’d like to do it, I am in no position to go back to living in a cave. I just can’t - I love it too much. It wasn’t until it started affecting my work and writing, that I realised that I needed to get a handle on this. So after a lot of research, I invested some time and energy in learning the art of ‘zoning out’. No, not the kind in the conversation that I’d mentioned above. But zoning out consciously - so you can tune out any noise or disturbance and focus on the one thing that you need to.


There are times when I value silence. Perhaps, even more so since I became a parent. In fact, the reason why I do a lot of my writing at night or early morning is because I find that silence helps me think and focus better. But often, due to situations beyond my control, I can’t always get to bed on time or get up that early. Additionally, modern life (and yes, technology is a big part of that life) has made it almost impossible to have quiet times. Of late, there is a sudden inexplicable need to fill silence with something. It’s like we (of course, I’m generalising) are almost petrified of silence.


Over the past few years, I’ve been seeing people choose their word or phrase of the year. While, I’d initially dismissed it, this year I decided to jump on the wagon.  I actually picked a word - and it was ‘Zen’. [Yes, Shailaja - I see that smirk on your face!]. I’d decided to go with the word because over the past year, I’d been losing my temper over a lot of things that were out of my control and the negativity was starting to get to me. And that’s how the whole ‘zoning out on purpose’ thing started. After weeks of practice, I could start to see the difference. Not only was I calmer and more collected, I was able to focus on the task at hand and not get distracted by things around me. Of course, the only glitch that I’d experienced was that I had only tried it out in the comforts of my home. What I needed was a real ‘litmus test’  - one that would determine the viability of this 'silent zone', as I called it.


It was around this time, that I hit a mini-roadblock of sorts while working on my manuscript. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't write. Deciding that I needed a change of scenario, I dropped into one of the many cafes around my apartment, in the hope that I could get some work done. Unfortunately for me, the cafe was loud - in fact, a noisy cacophony of people yelling, talking, typing, ordering, radio playing in the background, coffee machine whirring in the background, cutlery banging on the table - well, you get the gist.


Now, the old Sid would have probably walked out muttering one of the ‘unforgivable curses’ - but not this one. In fact, I’d become this person trying to see the positive side to every situation. (Yes, the same kind who are sometimes very irritating) So, I decided to ‘test drive’ this new skill of mine. After all, if it worked, I’d be able to tune out all of these noises and focus only on the ones that I needed to. What I’d discovered over the course of my previous experience was that when you zone out consciously, you also tend to notice everything around you. It’s sort of as if people and objects slow down and you’re in the moment -  like a form of ‘being high’ - meditational high, I call it. In many ways, you suddenly feel that the answers to all your questions and problems are right there in the ‘silent zone'.


Now, if this was a movie, I’d probably have achieved this ‘heightened state of perception' in one go. Sadly it wasn’t, and I was forever getting distracted by the waitress who first appeared to take my order; and then to bring my order and then to ask if there was anything else. Needless to say, she was very much in danger of unleashing the old, will-yell-for-everything Sid. Eventually, after a lot of ‘No, I’m fine!’s, I managed to put all my training to use and succeeded in zoning out.


All of sudden, I found myself thinking all these philosophical thoughts - like how we’re all connected by the fabric of life in some form or the other and how every living being had a purpose to fulfil. In fact, for a moment, I briefly panicked - it was as if I had my ‘Buddha’ moment of realisation (No offence intended - I’m just not a very ‘philosophical’ kind of person). Anyway, it was at this point that I thought I heard a fluttering noise. Almost immediately I visualised that scene in KungFu Panda where Master Shifu talks about inner peace and how if applied correctly, you can almost hear a butterfly’s wing beat. Except in my case, it was more of a loud rumble which made me realise that I was yet to drink my coffee and eat the snack that I’ve ordered.And as I slowly shifted my gaze to my table, I suddenly realised where the fluttering was from. Perched on the rim of my coffee cup and sipping my macchiato was a little fly, gently fluttering its tiny wings.


I was elated for a moment - I had actually managed to zone out enough to hear the fly despite all the noise. But then the realisation hit me; the fly was now drinking what was mine. And I really didn’t want to drink my Rs.180 coffee anymore. Fortunately, I was still in the zone; so, fuelled by all the zen & the love of all living beings, I did the best thing I could. I folded the newspaper and gently whacked the fly. I then gently nudged its dazed body into the coffee river, where it floated around. And then, I returned the coffee to the ever-smiling waitress saying there was a fly in it, who exchanged it for a freshly (I hope it was!) brewed cuppa.


So, maybe it is true then. [tweetthis twitterhandles="@iwrotethose" displaymode="box"]The answers to all our problems, in fact lies in the silent zone.  [/tweetthis] Have you found yours yet?