The curious reporter asked the leader of a religious community, “What do you and your sisters in the community say to God when you gather together for prayer?”
The sister replied, “We say nothing. We just listen.”
“Oh!” The reporter sighed. “What does God say to you then?”
And the sister, with a twinkle in her eyes, replied, “Nothing. God just listens.”
Over the month of January a number of us were attempting to lay low, stay quiet and have some extra meditation to remain in silence and so on. Having reflected upon that month, here are a few realizations I would like to share with you.
Many people remain silent. They practice a fast of silence and this is primarily a vow not to speak. Attention is given to not utter words and being quiet. They may do this for a day or even years. There are many who also pay attention to observe the fast of the mind. You may be thinking: Is that really possible? When the mind is responsible for firing up all those neural pathways for all those trillions of brain connections. Is it possible to put a break on the mind?
At every second, the brain is sending messages to the body; and the mind is taking in information from all the five senses and trying to process that data. Sometimes the brain is trying to alert you, if there is danger; and to remind you to eat when necessary; and to keep your body at the right temperature, basically the physiological programme is to keep you alive, and so you get my drift. All these systems are working in co-operation with each other without any mental interference and direction from me. It is a blessing that it is designed in this way!
I concluded that deep silence comes through practice and churning; when I have experienced the fullness of my inner being, then I need nothing from out there. That can only happen when I have ‘understood, with knowledge, and ‘experienced’ the truth of this through some practice of silent reflection and meditation. We could call this soul consciousness, in other words not to be drawn by things of the body into physical consciousness. This is the practice.
Sometimes people hold this type of belief: “If I am doing something good, but no one notices, then I might as well not be doing it at all.” These people mistakenly think that the reward is not in the effort but in the positive recognition of that effort from others. Not in performing the task for the self, but for the approval from other people.
For as long as I feel “I want something”, then I am in a position of weakness. For as long as the soul is caught up in desires it will be difficult to experience deep silence, because it will be hard to settle the mind. There will be some form of distraction or another to pull the mind away from that peace and silence.
In Hindi “shanti” is described as “silence” and “peace”. There can only be deep shanti, peace and silence when I am at peace with everything. When I do not need anything extra from outside. When I am just fine where I am; doing what I need to; being who I am, then I can be at peace.
As long as there is any disconnect there is a going to be restlessness, and hence an urge to fix or correct that thing. Some stimulus will come from the outside through the driver of my thoughts and I will be pulled to fulfil that desire. I can never be at peace, or in peace if I believe even the in slightest way, that I can become whole from taking support from something ‘out there’; from the physical world. Simply because what I am seeking is inner peace, which obviously comes from within.
There is another important element to experiencing deep inner silence. We are compelled into action because of our ego. The ego alone does the most damage. By ‘doing’ we feel ‘useful’. The more we do the more useful we feel. Yet we do not realize that we can never do enough … and enough for what? Why? To get love? To receive respect? To become rich or powerful? Even that won’t be enough. And so we set ourselves up for failure as we head for that bottomless pit of desires. Trying to be useful but to no end. We will still not be at peace or be happy.
This is a beautiful quote about wisdom. “It is the province of knowledge to speak; it is the privilege of wisdom to listen.” It’s when we get over our super ego’s belief that, “Only when I DO great things will I FEEL great.” It’s when I do nothing; when I am nothing; when I am empty … that I am … something. Then there will be no inner voice that will raise its head of wanting, wishing, whining… to go, to do, to conquer and so on.
Silence is the only language that God speaks. So if I want to communicate with God, I better start learning silence, the deep inner one. When I am silent I nourish and nurture myself. Normally, when I am weak and ill I just want space and silence to heal. So too silence of the soul is extremely healing.
Now, silence is a language we must learn. I say this because as spiritual beings we all came from silence and will return to silence. If we are unable to get used to silence then we will suffer. We will be forced into silence and any force only results in struggle and pain.
Here is a story about four monks taking a silent retreat. This is a perfect example to show that, even though the intention started out for silence, how easily we can lose our point of focus and become distracted.
The Four Monks
Four monks decided to meditate silently without speaking for two weeks. They began with enthusiasm and no-one said a word the whole day. By nightfall of the first day, the candle began to flicker and then went out.
The first monk blurted out, “Oh, no! The candle is out.”
The second monk said, “Hey! We are not supposed to speak!”
The third monk said in an irritated voice, “What is this? Why did you two break the silence?”
The fourth monk smiled and said to himself, “Wow! I’m the only one who hasn’t spoken.”
After some reflection we can see that each monk broke the silence for a different reason. Each reason is a common stumbling block in our inner journey: distraction, judgement, anger and pride.
The first monk got distracted by one aspect of his experience, the candle, and he forgot what was more important.
The practice of witnessing without reacting.
The second monk was more worried about others following the rules than in actually practising himself.
He was quick to judge without noticing that he himself was guilty of the same thing he was criticizing.
The third monk let his anger towards the first two monks affect him.
The singular burst of anger ruined the effort of the day.
The fourth monk lost his way because of pride.
He was convinced he was superior to the others, which simply proved his ignorance and weakness.
Why did the fourth monk speak at all? He could have simply maintained his silence and he would have been successful in his endeavour. But if he had, chances are that the other three might have continued to argue and not even noticed his silence. Some people are like this. They need attention and recognition for their good efforts and deeds. We see this in conspicuous actions of charity.
As we learn to truly listen, witness and observe without impulsively reacting in any way due to distraction, judgement, anger and pride, then we come to understand the true meaning of silence.
The pitfalls of other forms of silence
A man and his wife were having some problems at home and were giving each other the silent treatment. Suddenly, the man realized that the next day he would need his wife to wake him at 5.00 am for an early morning business flight. Not wanting to be the first to break the silence and seem to lose, the husband wrote on a piece of paper. “Please wake me at 5.00 am.” He left it where he knew she would find it.
The next morning, the man woke up, only to discover it was 9.00 am and he had missed the flight. Furious, he was about to go and see why his wife hadn’t woke him up. Then he noticed a piece of paper by the bed. The paper said, “It’s 5.00 am. Wake up.”
One older, the other much younger. They had both taken vows of silence and chastity. As they continued along the trail, they came to a creek where they saw a girl standing on the bank, she told them that she needed to get across. Without hesitation the older monk picked her up in his arms and waded across the creek with her. Once they both got to the other side, they went on their way.
An hour on down the trail the younger of the two broke his vow of silence,
“You know with our vow of chastity we are not to even touch a woman, let alone make eye contact with one!”
The older one, who had been admiring the beauty of the woods and the songs of the birds, replied, “Brother, I set her down on the bank an hour ago. You, however, are still carrying her.”
We need to learn how to use the power of silence. Not as a weapon against others, or as a noisy silence, often witnessed in close relationships, where the non-verbal communication is of such high volume that everyone can hear it! This will happen when we are irritated by others. That vibe just grows and as we say, “speaks volumes”, then everyone can feel the vibe.
You are the child of the Silent One
Silence is your inheritance
You are silent deep within
You came from the Silent Land
You shall return to the same Silent Land
It’s Time… to use the power of peace in the best way to stop the chatter of our own minds and to experience deep silence.
© ‘It’s Time…’ by Aruna Ladva, BK Publications London, UK