The Silent Cinema

Now here’s a peculiar thing…

Having done a fair bit of listening to people with soothing voices inviting me to contemplate my feet… and having read a couple of harder core books from the Dalai Lama… I’d concluded mindfulness and meditation wasn’t really me.

I’ve learnt how to breathe, seek enjoyment and find peace ‘in the moment’. I’m getting pretty good at it; and had assumed that was it.

But one slightly terrifying day in July – the 29th to be precise – I met and said ‘oh, fancy that; hello’ to the actual ‘me’ inside. The most bizarre experience I think I’ve ever had.

The simple process is to imagine yourself in a cinema, completely caught up in a film. Then imagine yourself sitting deeper in the chair and detaching yourself from the film and noticing all the people sat around you (especially vivid if you think of them as wearing 3D specs).

Next imagine yourself alone in the movie theatre… and then imagine all your thoughts and sensory perceptions are on the screen.

Now imagine that screen going blank…

What’s left?

The silent person watching the screen inside.

I found it frankly really weird. For the first time I met the silent, energetic, unstable whoosh of raw consciousness and mental energy which is the ‘me’ that sits deep inside.

I’ve not been back since if I’m honest. I noted it down and slightly left it be. It feels like a thing not to be messed with. Pure consciousness is enlightenment, life and death and personal identity all wrapped up in one bouncing, pinging, luminous, easily distracted, unstoppable beam of ‘always on’ energy.

I get meditation and Buddhism now; and fear pain and fear itself a little less. But I’m not sure I want to go back into the cinema and turn everything off again…

I’ve kept myself busy since writing ‘Enlightenment’ in my iPhone notes on 29th July. My next entry is a ‘to do’ list for two weeks of camping – on the 30th July – which feels a good enough excuse; especially given all that’s happened since.

But the quiet seat – in the totally silent and empty cinema – is a place I will have to visit again; even if I don’t fancy it much.

Absent a sudden and violent death, the silent cinema is an important place to know the way into I reckon… That’s the purpose of Buddhism I suspect – to be able to detach the ‘silent witness’ and the constant flow of mental energy from the ego, angst, fear and pain which capture it for most of the living years.

A bit scary though.


Having written this, I popped back into the ‘silent cinema’ this morning. All very painless. Eyes closed: hearing the planes, noises off, feeling the grumbling in the stomach and the ache in my shoulder – and slowly turning attention away from them and towards inner silence. A few thoughts and ideas ping around, a sense it’s all a bit self-conscious in there and then quiet; just quiet… a couple of good thoughts float by… then eyes open and life’s Technicolor cinema immediately fills the screen again with dazzling light, noise, distractions and opportunity.

Life seems even brighter today after a few minutes in the silent cinema.


Some weeks back I was talking to someone at work about the racket going on in her head. Too much on her mind.

As luck would have it, I’d just started reading a book which tackles the issue head on: what is all the noise in between our ears about…

In a nutshell the thesis is that we all live with a ‘noisy narrator’ in our heads – who is trying to be helpful but just can’t stop pointing things out, making suggestions, presenting arguments and/or things to remember or worry about. 

And the internal narrator likes nothing better than presenting competing options, then contradicting itself and coming up with wild half-baked fears and anxieties. All of which is ready and constant source of angst, brain ache and worries.

But that’s not the half of it… once you pay attention you notice your chatty companion also loves the banal and distracting – look at that tree; fancy a latte; what time is it; fancy humming this tune?

Now like most people I’d always assumed the restless, ceaseless, constant chuntering in my head was me. But the argument in The Untethered Soul’ is that you’re not the narrator… you’re the one quietly listening.

It’s a bit like being in a cinema; detach yourself from the action onscreen and you notice you’re sat in a row of chairs immersed in the film – but the observer of it; you’re not in the film.

It’s a bit strange the effect this has. Combined with taking a breath (of which more anon) I find myself experiencing quite a lot of quiet…

Of course it’s easy to switch the constant stream of ideas, actions and reactions back on; that’s still the default setting. But I do find myself sitting quietly and staring into the middle distance a good deal at the moment.

Quiet it seems is just that; quiet. It’s a whole new experience, but I quite like it.