"Within each of us, there is a silence, a silence as vast as the universe. And when we experience that silence, we remember who we are..." -- Gunilla Norris
Many great spiritual traditions honor the practice of silence as a way to deepen the connection to our innermost selves.
As we move into the cold dark months of winter, a natural quietness starts to surround us. Without the long hours of sunlight to keep us warm and energized we may find ourselves naturally moving inward and wanting to be more still and quiet. With the holidays upon us, nothing can be more nourishing than this sense of peace.
Practicing silence helps us bridge our outer life with our inner life and prepares the mind/heart for meditation. When we speak, our energy travels outward with our words. When we observe silence, we stop the drain of energy through our speech and we can use that energy to explore the depths of our inner world.
At first we may be overwhelmed with the chatter in our own minds and the desire to engage in speaking. Over time, we find ourselves surrendering to the experience and perhaps even longing for it.
With conscious silence we stop giving into our urge to respond to everything around us and we begin to quiet the rumblings of our own minds. We can't always quiet our external world, but we can connect to a place inside of us that is silent and still. We begin to recognize that all sound is born out of silence, and when we are in that silence we can feel our connection to all things.
On the very first night of my yoga training program, we do an exploration of our relationship to silence. I ask the students to meander through the room and introduce themselves to each other and talk for a few minutes. It feels almost like a party. After everyone has met one another, I then ask the students to move through the room and meet each other again, only this time in silence. The instruction is to look at them, take a few breaths, and be in the silence of their company. The discomfort is palpable. It is amazing how uncomfortable this brief silence can be for most people. We aren't used to being in relationship to others through our silence. It can be disorienting at first, but in those few moments of silence we begin to feel the presence of the other person without the clutter of words. Once we get past our discomfort with silence, we can connect heart to heart in an intimate and meaningful way.
Have you ever spent time with someone you love and just shared the silence of the moment together? Not that uncomfortable silence where someone is angry or awkwardly uncomfortable, but that kind that allows you to feel each other in a deep and profound way. You may notice the urge to say something, but the quiet is so profound that you surrender to the silence.
Author and teacher Eckhart Tolle in his book, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose, suggests that we pay attention to outer silence as a way to connect to our inner silence and that just by this mere attention to outer silence we can become aware of the nature of sound and silence in our lives.
How to Practice Silence
(Some suggestions from Swami Sivananda)
1. Schedule your silence at a particular time when life is not pulling on you. It may be an hour or longer.
2. During that time, turn off the phone, TV, radio, computer, and all other communication devices. Put down all books and other reading material.
3. Sit quietly and rest -- or look carefully at a natural object -- or engage in work that does not require you to hear, see, or express words. Gentle housekeeping or gardening can be excellent activities to do in silence, or taking a long walk in nature.
4. Listen to the silence and try to enjoy a respite from thinking, reviewing, planning, and imagining. Stay in the present moment.
5. Breathe deeply and mindfully, bringing in the silence and expelling mental "noise."
6. At the end of your of silence, let your first word be an expression of gratitude or love
The Benefits of Silence
- Calms the heart and nervous system
- Allows your fuse to get longer when you step out of your need to respond
- Connects us to our innermost awareness
- Bridges the gap between daily life and meditation
- Improves mindfulness practices
- Restores harmony and balance to our otherwise busy lives
- Reduces the formation of plaque in the arteries
- The more you practice silence the more your mind will search for the silence between sounds. You will find yourself naturally slipping into the still and quiet spaces of your own heart to rest and take refuge.
How has silence helped you to hear your inner voice?
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