The 16th of March here in Bali is a holiday known as Nyeppi Day, which in English is translated to Quiet Day. I have italicized the word holiday above as a way of indicating that there is something questionable about the term, in my mind anyway, as applied in the generally shared sense of what is meant to be conveyed, i.e. a holiday (see Webster’s).
In short, and bluntly stated, Nyeppi has got to be one of the stupidest holidays created by man.
The night before Nyeppi there is a parade, a procession of decorated floats (rather like the Rose Festival back in Oregon), along with fireworks, great crowds of celebrants, horns-a-honking and dogs-a-barking, and other familiar components of the festival and fair.
Pretty typical up to that point.
At midnight however (and this is where it gets dumb) everyone must go into his house, turn off the lights, turn off any electrical amusements (TV, radio, X-Box. laptop, et. al.) and proceed to be perfectly quiet for the next 24 hours. You are not to talk, laugh, imbibe strong spirits, or otherwise amuse yourself in any way. Rather, you are to meditate. It’s a bit like making a New Years resolution, and then really thinking about it for the next 24 hours.
The first 8 or so hours are not so bad, considering that most folks will spend these in slumber any way. Any other nighttime activity, procreation for instance (or any euphemism thereof) is strictly disallowed. But sleep is good, and perfectly legal.
It is the next 12 hours or so, those between waking and the following midnight, that become pretty much unbearable--unless, I suppose, one is already sick with the flu or otherwise incapacitated or has not yet read War and Peace or Gone with the Wind and wants to do so in one day. Both of them, I mean.
Now you may say, Just ignore it then, do what you want, let those who find significance in the thing partake of the thing.
Ah, but here’s the catch--Special police have been employed to patrol the streets, enforce the silence. Lots of them. Do you have a light on? They will come to your door. They watch for the telltale flicker of a television set, they hear the whisper of music, the clicking of keys on the laptop, the clink of champagne glasses.
No one is to be on the street. No one is to be outside his own door. And this is no game, no not at all--for these deputized enforcers of quiet have the authority to at the very least enter your house in order to nullify an offending appliance, and at the most to cart you away to the banjir (the jail). Disturbing the peace would, I suppose, be the charge.
Now I don’t mean to be culturally insensitive, but come on! How shall we meditate on what is good when what is good comes by the senses--hearing, seeing, tasting, touching? I can tell you that when no lights are allowed--not even street lights--the stars above stand out like diamonds on velvet. But I must tell you also that if one cannot go outside his own door he will miss what is miraculous, made available this one night by the absence of earthy light, because of the very conditions that have made the miraculous visible in the first place.
When is the last time you have seen darkness; when the natural light of the galaxy? When is the last time you’ve heard the scuttering of a lizards little claws on the wall, or the ruffling of a night bird’s wings, or the whisper that a single leaf makes in the breeze? So many things are there that are born of silence, and yet you will not hear them still, despite the opportunity the Nyeppi Day affords, because hearing, seeing, touching, tasting is disallowed.
As far as I can see, the very best thing one can do is to break the rules, because only in this way can he appreciate what is otherwise masked by sound and movement and light--all the elements that make up the busy-ness of life.