The joy of not understanding

Living abroad in a new country and not understanding the language can sometimes be a frustration. I’ve found this many times before, especially living in the Far East where there is not much linguistic reference attuned yet to my brain.

But there is one situation in which I enjoy not understanding anything at all.

It is here where I am sitting. Typing these very words, unaffected by the flow around me. It is here, where people meet, sit, talk and spend time with one another. It is here in no other than an ordinary coffee shop, the same as anywhere else in the world. But it is in this place, where my brain is not accustomed to all the 10,000 of the words I need to be fluent, that I find a beautiful sense of peace. 

Around me conversations are being had, the atmosphere is by no means silent. Sugar pods are split open, keys jingle, a music plays in the background. The sound is layered by conversations, not one, not two, but many, happenning simultaneously all around. Bouncing from the walls and windows to my eardrum for processing. Laughing, lecturing, learning. Pauses for breath, sips on a coffee cup, a subtle slurping swallow. Clicks of a camera to show the virtual world, this is me, I am here. Money counted, phones clicked. It’s all exists, just as it would, elsewhere.

But it is sound, it is emotion, it is vibration. 

The words are spoken and heard with no attachment to meaning. The speaker could be talking about their dreams, death or dinner but the listener listens on, working, typing, sitting, reading in a bubble of bliss. The odd word spikes a thorn in my ear, ‘gongzuo’ (work), ‘laowai’ (foreigner), the name of a nearby neighbourhood or city but they fuse quickly back into that delicious white noise. The one thing that is not on the cafe’s menu. 

The one thing that I really come here for. 

The stir of a spoon hitting the coffee cup, the whir of the machine, an open tap’s water splashing amongst the clinking crockery. It is such a beautiful paradox to find peace in the noise around. Selecting only what I have learnt, hearing only what I know as the world continues. 

I wonder. Is this a state of meditation?

Is the most profound yogi mind’s fine tuned to practice unaffected selection of sound in all situations? Is this how it feels to be a child again? Hearing with no reaction. Being with no distraction. Where even in your own language, in your own country, in your own coffee shop, you sit listening to words of the world around you with non-attachment to a particular scene, emotion or reference.

Without adjoining your own life’s experiences, joys and miseries to another person’s syllables.

It is a state of total equanimity to the presence of being cultivated in this moment. A state of being able to just be, to sit unaffected, to reach a goal, to achieve an ultimum state of creativity, to write an article, just like this – with sweet, white, fuzzy noise all around.

It is this flippant state of bliss I have found one spring afternoon, at a noisy cafe in Beijing.

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