“…all the people who came there -who were all G.’s pupils- were not afraid to keep silent”
“…people feared silence more than anything else.”
“It was not possible to tell lies there.”
My favourite piece from the book In Search of the Miraculous / Fragments of an Unknown Teaching by P. D. Ouspensky (published: 1949). (Underlines by myself)
“In October I was with G. in Moscow.
His small apartment on the Bolshaia Dmitrovka, all the floors and walls of which were covered in the Eastern style with carpets and the ceilings hung with silk shawls, astonished me by its special atmosphere.
First of all the people who came there -who were all G.’s pupils- were not afraid to keep silent. This alone was something unusual. They came, sat down, smoked, they often did not speak a single word for hours. And there was nothing oppressive or unpleasant in this silence; on the contrary, there was a feeling of assurance and of freedom from the necessity of playing a forced and invented role.
But on chance and curious visitors this silence produced an extraordinarily strange impression. They began to talk and they talked without stopping as if they were afraid of stopping and feeling something. On the other hand others were offended, they thought that the “silence” was directed against them in order to show them how much superior G.’s pupils were and to make them understand that it was not worth while even talking to them; others found it stupid, amusing, “unnatural”, and that is showed our worst features, particularly our weakness and our complete subordination to G. who was ‘oppressing us’.”
P. even decided to make notes of the reactions of various types of people to the “silence”. I realized in this place that people feared silence more than anything else, that our tendency to talk arises from self-defense and is always based upon a reluctance to see something, a reluctance to confess something to oneself.
I quickly noticed a still stranger property of G.’s apartment. It was not possible to tell lies there. A lie at once became apparent, obvious, tangible, indubitable.
Once there came an acquaintance of G.’s whom I had met before and who sometimes came to G.’s groups. Besides myself there were two or tree people in the apartment. G. himself was not there. And having sat a while in silence our guest began to tell how he had just met a man who had told him some extraordinarily interesting things about the war, about the possibilities of peace and so on. And suddenly quite unexpectedly for me I felt that he was lying. He had not met anybody and nobody had told him anything. He was making it all up on the spot simply because he could not endure the silence.
I felt awkward looking at him. It seemed to me that if I looked at him he would realize that I saw he was lying. I glanced at the others and saw that they felt as I did and were barely able to repress their smiles. I then looked at the one who was talking and I saw that he alone noticed nothing and he continued to talk very rapidly becoming more and more carried away by his subject and not all noticing the glances that we unintentionally exchanged with one another.
This was not the only case. I suddenly remembered the attempts we made in the summer to describe our lives and the “intonations” with which we spoke when we tried to hide facts. I realized that here also the whole thing was in the intonations. When a man is chattering or simply waiting for an opportunity to begin he does not notice the intonations of others and is unable to distinguish lies from the truth. But directly he is quiet himself, that is, awakes a little, he hears the different intonations and begins to distinguish other people’s lies.
We spoke several times with G.’s pupils on this subject. I told them what happened in Finland and about the “sleeping people” I had seen on the streets of St. Petersburg. The feeling of mechanical lying people here in G.’s apartment reminded me very much of the feeling of ‘sleeping people”.
I wanted very much to introduce some of my Moscow friends to G., but from among all those whom I met during these days only one, my old mewspaper friend V. A. A., produced the impression of being sufficiently alive, although he was as usual overloaded with work and rushing from one place to another. But he was very interested when I told him about G. and with G.’s permission I invited him to have lunch at G.’s place. G. summoned about fifteen of his people and arranged a lunch.
He seated A. near him, was very kind to him, entertained him all the time, and poured out wine for him. My heart suddenly fell when I realized to what a test I had brought my old friend. The fact was that everyone kept silence. A. held out for five minutes. Then he began to talk. He spoke of the war, of all our allies and enemies together and separately; he communicated the opinions of all the public men of Moscow and St. Petersburg upon all possible subjects; then he talked about the dessication of vegetables for the army (with which he was then occupied in addition to his journalistic work), particularly the dessication of onions, then about artifical
manures, agricultural chemistry, and chemistry in general; about “melioration”; about spiritism, the materialization of hands”, and about what else I do not remember now.
Neither G. nor anyone else spoke a single word.
I was on the point of speaking that fearing that A. would be offended, but G. looked at me so fiercely that I stopped short. Besides, my fears were in vain. Poor A. noticed nothing, he was so carried away by his own talk and his own eloquence that he sat on happily at the table and talked without stopping for a moment until four o’clock. Then with great feeling he shook hands with G. and thanked him for his “very interesting conversation”. G., looking at me, laughed slyly.
I felt very ashamed. They had made a fool of poor A. He certainly could not have expected anything of the kind, so he was caught. I realized that G. had given a demonstration to his people.
“There, you see,” he said, when A. had gone. “He is called a clever man. But he would not have noticed it even if I had taken his trousers off him. Only let him talk. He wants nothing else. And everybody is like that.
This one was much better than many others. He told no lies. And he really knew what he talked about, in his own way of course. But think, what use is he? He is no longer young.
And perhaps this was the one time in his life when there was an opportunity of hearing the truth. And he talked himself all the time.”