July 20, 2007
V 35 Issue 29

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Tour De Life by Beau Burriola
Without the Noise
by Beau Burriola - SGN Contributing Writer

Sitting motionless on the living room floor with my eyes closed, I did my best to relax and tune out the endless Capitol Hill noises all around me: the laughter and splashing from the swimming pool of the apartment building next door, the staccato distress of a distant car alarm, the inexplicable and random interjections from the folks in the Crazy Building a half block down, and even - as much as I could manage - the high pitched and faint sound of the silence itself. Meditation in this neighborhood is the ultimate test of my amateur abilities, but even when I haven't managed to block it all out, my mind is cleared and my body feels better.

"You want to do more than tune everything out," Mona used to tell us in Beginner's Meditation class, facing a whole room full of patients sitting cross legged on the floor, all of us anxious to learn a new way to fight illness. "You want to force your mind to be completely quiet, to stop all of the noise and distraction in and outside."

In class, I sat near Helen, a tall red and white-haired lady with very loud breathing, who's forty plus years of smoking lead to surgery in her throat. Like me, she came from Texas, and like me, she wasn't completely sure about the real benefits of learning to meditate. Also like me, though, she found out how illness opens your mind and challenges you to let go of some of what you think you know in the hopes of grasping a new understanding of your own wellness. Meditation isn't perfect science, but it's something besides another prescription or another doctor. It's something from inside. It feels like a new approach.

When I started, my expectations of meditation were bizarre. I vividly imagined reaching some "other" plane of existence, some connection to a world where chanting epiphanies and the answers to all the universe's problems would ignite and inspire me to do superhuman things, like ridding my body of HIV by sheer will. The reality was dramatically less colorful than that.

"Sometimes my breathing keeps me awake at night," Helen said to me once while we were waiting for Mona. Her goal was simple: she hoped to learn to silence the worry and the sound of breathing to sleep better. My problem was more fundamental. When I was able to find the silence under all the other sounds, I didn't know what to do with all the silence. In that place of total silence, I felt unsure and a little bored. If you silence your brain and your body, you don't get any epiphanies. You don't get some connection to another world. You don't get answers to big life questions. You get only yourself and that didn't seem very interesting to me. I've always depended so much on the "noise" of the world to react and exist.

By the end of the last class, though I didn't find any connections to other universes or the secret answers to the universe, I did find the complete silence fascinating. It's a way to escape from the bramble of the world into a small, consciously-carved clearing, where you've got to learn to be alone with yourself. No people, no distractions, no judgments; nothing but yourself. That is what feels good. That is what I get out of it.

Whether or not things like meditation will help me to beat HIV one day is still an open question. For the moment it isn't important. I've discovered that the more I try, the more I realize there is much more to try. For the moment, I can only take the small steps and hope they all add up to a big one. The important thing seems to be that I'm taking the steps toward trying to be more well.

It just so happens that one of those steps has me now sitting here on the living room floor, trying to block out the sounds. When I've learned to do that - to live in that silence and learn what the silence can bring - then I'll try something else, too.

Beau Burriola is a local writer learning to listen through the silence.
visit Beau at


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