Over the course of the week, a persistent hacking cough had gotten steadily worse. Early Monday morning, I awoke at about 3 AM and realized I needed to get professional medical help, so reluctantly I drove myself down the local hospital Emergency Room. I was certainly having an emergency, and so things coincided perfectly in that respect.
Once the requisite tubes were attached and my medical insurance information reviewed to determine how the services were going to be paid for, an attending physician came in to discuss my condition. Apparently, my lungs were producing sounds comparable to milk over Rice Krispies, but amplified to the theater sound version. Furthermore, a check on my oxygen levels prompted the doctor to assume a rather stern expression. He leaned closer and told me that he had an important question to ask me. “My favorite kind,” I smiled back.
He solemnly inquired as to whether I had an “Advanced Health Care Directive”. The hospital wanted to know what to do with the body if it fell into a vegetative brain-dead coma. I indicated that I did not want to be rendered a vegetable, as much as I appreciated their place in the food chain. If not, he suggested that I had better submit the necessary paperwork. I had been informed about this on previous visits, but now, as I approach ever closer to that great awaiting compost bin, I decide to comply with the paperwork request and ask for the forms.
Without much further delay, I find myself being wheeled down several hallways towards the main hospital area, where I am finally situated in a room to participate in another adventure with my old lung friend, Bronchial Pneumonia. It had transitioned from viral to bacterial, and was now preparing to reveal further lessons about the nature of this fragile and transient embodiment for my ongoing edification.
Everyone here is very nice. We all have our jobs to do. Today, mine is to be a sick patient, while others get to be doctors and nurses. We mostly take our assumed roles seriously, as one would expect from seasoned actors. The nurses are especially wonderful, demonstrating that hospitals may be one of the last institutions in America where angels gather to ply their trade. Nevertheless, a lot of goodwill can be blown during the night by their thoughtless exchanges of noisy chit chat and personal gossip which echo down the ward corridors while patients are attempting to sleep. More on that later.
In the meantime, it seems to me that excessive amounts of my blood are being drawn, and before long my arms look like those of a heroin addict. The thought briefly crosses my mind that a portion of that blood is intended to feed the pale, long-toothed lab techs who labor, protected from the sun’s threatening rays, in windowless basement rooms. Clearly, I have watched too many horror movies in my time, but still . . .
Some visionaries report that souls from across the multiverse come here to enjoy the exotic experience of being humans on Earth during this momentous time. As midnight on my first night approached, I discovered that the person sharing the room with me may very well have originally hailed from Planet Tweak. The characterization of a Tweaker generally refers to someone who uses powerful stimulants like methamphetamines, and who can often be found absorbed in strange schizophrenic-like activities which they determinedly pursue 24/7 without pause for sleep or even nourishment.
On the other side of the separating curtain, my room-mate was busy making all sorts of noise. It seems that he was intent on deconstructing the hospital tray table. Eventually, I inquired as to his rationale for embarking on this venture in the middle of the night. He replied that he was trying to reduce the table’s size in order to fit it under his bed. He continued on with the racket until his attention was attracted by a small bedside fan. He first turned the fan on the lowest setting, then switched it to medium speed, and finally to high, whereupon he reveled in the whine of the loftier decibels for several minutes, before going back to the lowest speed and starting the progression again.
Just as my weakened detachment was about to completely evaporate, an elderly patient in an adjoining room begins screaming for help at the top of his voice. His outbursts go on for quite some time before an attendant arrives to sooth him. She assures him he is safe here in the hospital. “No!” he shouts back. “Help! Help!” Then he adds, as if to clarify, “It’s the noise, the noise!”
Now I am curious. It’s 2 AM, and it seems that sleep and I will continue to remain strangers. In order to further investigate, I fantasize a faux-telepathic link with the old fellow, allowing my own attention to merge with his in order to discover the actual nature of this fearsome noise. Earlier, I had overheard a nurse describing the typical effects of full moons on hospital patients, but I could tell that lunar variations were not the source of this current distress. Nor was the cause related to the incessant series of electronic beeps and whistles produced by the many medical devices scattered throughout the ward. As annoying as the staff’s loud chit chat in the corridor could be, it was not that either.
As I plunged down deeper through the layers, I came to the eventual recognition that the noise which was horrifying the old gent was none other than consciousness itself! Essentially, consciousness is not other than noise, noise is not other than consciousness. How about that. Within some of the mystical traditions which humans have devised to account for the inexplicable cosmos, there is the belief that God is consciousness, as if that is a good thing. “In the beginning was the word, and the word was God.”
Apparently, the great silent void couldn’t help itself, so along came God, the original source of noise, and everything soon got very noisy after that. Galactic noise, solar noise, planetary noise, elemental noise, insect and animal noise, ambient environmental noise, all conspire and compound to produce a shattering cry from a hospital bed in the middle of the night, in the midst of an incomprehensible eternity.
Indeed, everything we imagine ourselves to be is composed of atomic fractals of vibrating noise. We are a noisy assemblage of transient frequencies which create the realistic illusion of a solid and enduring person, a self. If we were able to somehow empty ourselves of all of our preconceptions, judgments, and preferences to the point where we let this realization have its way with us, the whole reverberating mechanism would be convulsed in a nameless ecstasy at the mere contemplation of this miracle of the appearance of anything at all!
Alternately, the Buddha taught that consciousness — noise — is ultimately stressful. One of my more reliable teachers, Nisargadatta Maharaj, claimed that consciousness was like an itching rash, and even designated it as “a fraud”. Such reports clearly require closer examination. Tonight, it occurred to me that noise is not merely an auditory phenomena, any more than consciousness is a mere mental projection. There is gustatory noise, aromatic noise, tactile noise, visual noise, and certainly the noise of thought which chronically occupies our attention. We are immersed in noise, dwell within and as noise itself, and this noise can both enchant and horrify us.
There are certain accomplished yogis who can follow the subtle sound current emanating within the body-mind complex. It will lift and carry them to exquisite non-material realms of ravishing bliss and indescribable rapture. In the dream, the possibilities are limitless. Some say that God is the Dreamer, and we are but dream characters dancing in the heart-mind of God, unique holographic vehicles fashioned to explore the endless possibilities of experience from every angle.
That may be so, but here is another story which might be equally true: we are that which makes God possible, which grants reality to all of this crazy divine noise. In that sense, everything Is because we Are. Just as awareness is not separate from experience, noise is not separate from silence. There is only one thing. That one thing will leave us speechless.
Just so, how then should noise — consciousness — be regarded? To paraphrase the Buddha, any noise whatsoever — past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near: every noise is to be seen as it actually is with right discernment as: “This is not mine. This is not my self. This is not what I am.” In other words, we are prior to noise, prior to any identification with it.
In such recognition, we may cease to be troubled by any temporarily appearing noise. No longer bothered, we become dispassionate. Through dispassion, we are released. By sharing in this consideration at the telepathic level, the noise which had heretofore disturbed the old man seemed to subside. In its subsidence, he grew quiet. As he grew quiet, the whole hospital ward was released from its burdensome noisiness. I heard the Tweaker in my room on the phone. He was telling somebody, “In my soul, I know that all is well.” Then he fell asleep. At last, I did too.
In my dream, there was a large gathering. Hundreds of thousands of people were massing along a central city boulevard. Some of the participants in the crowd held candles to illuminate the darkness, since the city was now without any electricity to power the lights. Something had happened, but it was not clear exactly what that was, except now a massive vigil was underway in the middle of the night. All of the faces of the people were somber. Nobody spoke a word.