I recently went on a short trek in the hills. There were very few people on this trail, all women. Something to be said for the male demographic’s lack of enthusiasm for fitness. But I digress. A certain level of noise and distraction is an integral part of our urban lives. We revel in the sound of a bird if you happen to wake up early enough to hear it. The forest, on the other hand, is a whole different experience. There is deathly silence. There is also a cacophony of sound. You feel alone, but you feel you have all of nature with you. All of this exists at the same time. The experience is hard to describe in words. There is a term for it. It is called qualia.
Qualia is the individual instance of subjective conscious experience. Something that cannot be shared or expressed in words. Something that you only you can experience. Something that you can’t transfer to another. Something that can only be understood experientially. Your personal story. But is there such a thing? Was my experience in the forest any different from what you would experience? Would your experience differ only to the extent of the degree of stillness or was there something more fundamental? Was I attempting to describe the physicality of the stillness or merely how I perceived it? Our experiences are linked to the physical reality in which we exist. If this physicality is common, then by definition our experience cannot be that different can it?
Buddhist monks talk about a practice called zazen. The aim of zazen is just sitting, that is, suspending all judgmental thinking and letting words, ideas, images and thoughts pass by without getting involved in them. Someday I hope to experience the forest this way. When I do, I would have found heaven on earth.