“Silence is the source of all that exists, the unfathomable stillness where vibration began — the first oscillation, the first word, from which life emerged. Silence is our deepest nature, our home, our common ground, our peace. Silence reveals. Silence heals. Silence is where God dwells. We yearn to be there. We yearn to share it.”
from Sharing Silence by Gunilla Norris
Our recent silent retreat inspired me to write about the profound benefit we can experience from practicing silence. Though we don’t hear much about it, it is an element of spiritual life found in every religious tradition I can think of. In the Yogic tradition, the practice is called Mouna. The practice of silence for spiritual growth includes a withdrawal from self-expression even by writing or sign language.
This relieves us from the stimulation of outward communication and is conducive to inward communion with the presence of ineffable Peace within us. Prayer, meditation, worship — many practices where we attune our minds to this spiritual consciousness within — are done in silence. Many of our daily activities can be done with this indrawn intention to remain attuned to that consciousness in the midst of movement.
Conserving energy is one immediate benefit of practicing silence. Consider the thought and energy which goes into communicating with others, thinking about what to say and taking the time to explain the nuances of your opinions and feelings. It is interesting to notice how much of our conversation is concerned with presenting ourselves in a desirable way. Think of how often a unique moment is interrupted by wondering how you’ll explain it to someone. Silence frees us from this preoccupation and from any need to externalize or justify what we experience. Silence gives us the opportunity to simply be with what is, to connect deeply with what we encounter.
This effort to be silently present is an essential element of cultivating awareness through meditation. Tremendous insight into the nature of the mind and the processes of thought comes from learning to observe without judgement or commentary. The ever changing nature of the mind is thus exposed against the backdrop of this unchanging witness, bringing to light a profound truth –that we are not the mind and thoughts.
With even a taste of this truth, we begin to experience the possibility of thinking and acting with love and compassion for all, free from identification with only this body and mind. However, with the waves of daily life constantly washing over us, this freedom is not easily maintained. A regular practice over a long period of time is required.
This practice has proven to be a wonderful way to keep myself rejuvenated by incorporating it into my life. In addition to observing silence when we meditate or practice Hatha Yoga, it can be as simple as turning down the phone while you clean your room, walking alone in nature or eating a meal quietly and mindfully. If you are at home but around others, you can still practice it by wearing a little sign reading “observing silence”, so they won’t misunderstand your intention.
It is also a powerful practice to share with a group. This was recently reaffirmed to me during our annual silent retreat that I led with Mukunda and Mirabai. I saw how the participants developed harmonious group energy as the retreat progressed. I remembered my own experience on similar retreats, feeling a connection with others much deeper than if we had been speaking.
To some extent, we experience this in our regular group meditations here at the Institute, each of us silently disengaging from the mental stories and touching that ground of being which we all share. I hope you have the opportunity to join us for meditation or to observe silence in your own way, and experience ever more fully the profound peace within that is our true nature.