Recently I had the honor to talk to one of India's most respected teachers Sri Sri Ravi Shankar while he was visiting the Art of Living Retreat Center in Boone, North Carolina. His mission and work has spread around the world as he offers yoga and meditation for a stress free world of peace. I wanted to ask him why silence was so central to his teachings. He said, "In silence we get back our energy which is lost in the outer world. In being so busy in daily life, we do not see the center core of who we are. We are more then our five senses. It is important to go to the source of our being, beyond the mind, beyond emotion."
I explained that in the West, people have difficulty going into silence. He agreed, saying "mental busy-ness is contagious". I pointed out that there are few teachers like him that embody silence. When his students sit with him, they can feel for themselves his presence. His inner silence is contagious and this is a support to find the presence of silence within the students. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar said,"People can find this silence on their own through breathing exercises and yoga. They find silence as they slow down. It is important to find silence if they want to find themselves."
I asked him to explain further and he said, "There are actually three kinds of silence.
First is the silence of no talking. This is very beneficial for people just to be aware of what they are saying and how much energy they spend talking. Second is the silence of stillness. This is the silence inside of us that is detached from the noise in the world. This inner stillness is very important if we want to understand and grow as a spiritual person. Inner silence frees us from the noise of the world. And thirdly, there is the silence of oneness, oneness with the entire universe. This is the course silence takes inside of us. Oneness is the goal of silent practice."
I then asked how does one stay in this silence of oneness and he responded, "It is practice. Retreats and then longer retreats and soon this oneness is always present no matter what is going on in the world around us. As we find this silence of oneness we also find patience, blissfulness, contentment, and very important, we find our creativity. Silence opens the place inside of us of creativity.
Then he shared how he offers these courses in silence to veterans of wars and how upon finding the silence of oneness, their emotional wounds were healed. "After a few brief sessions," he said," they were much better."
Then I asked, what the process looks like as we go further into silence. He said, "As we go deeper in silence there is deeper contentment. Oneness is Godliness. There is no God separate from this. The questions we have are answered in this place of silence and oneness."
My time with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar was brief but in these minutes, I could feel his pure silence & joy. He is speaking, simply, directly, true words for a noisy world. His teaching is true words for the noisy world inside of us. He offers the Art of Silence Course at the International Meditation Center in Boone, North Carolina. Although I have no relationship with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and have never attended his retreats or been part of his organization, meeting him briefly I was reminded of the best of India and Hindu teachers. They follow a long tradition of skills and understanding developed many centuries ago which are as relevant as ever to our modern era. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is famous for his commitment to silence and his joy. Talking to him it was clear how they come together. Finding the grand oneness inside of him there was an obvious joy in his speech, his being, his abundant presence.