It’s again that time of the year when nature takes a little pause to catch its breath. This season of slowing down is often associated with setbacks and failure, however, when you slow down, you become aware of many things you would miss out if you were in a tearing hurry. So, the season of fall is akin to a moment of silence in a conversation. It’s the pause that allows you to choose to respond, or choose to be silent.
Lao Tzu, the Chinese philosopher, understood the power of silence when he said, ‘Silence is a source of great strength.’ For centuries, both philosophers and psychologists have recommended silence as a path to find meaning and answers in our lives. The virtue of silence has been laudable especially in religion and spiritual circles, where seekers have often practised silence to attain spiritual enlightenment and awakening and is no surprise that across religions, silence is sacred. This skill is observed as a means to access the almighty. It is revered as a concept and necessary for the first step of worship and to reflect and connect with the supreme. It’s a source of inner quietude and mindfulness. And while we’re all aware of the proverb ‘silence is golden,’ and one doesn’t need to have scientists or studies to corroborate the benefits of silence, it’s ironic that we’re also afraid of quiet moments.
In her book titled, A Book of Silence, author Sara Maitland observes that people often perceive silence negatively, equating it to emptiness and have the urge to fill those beautiful moments even if in a conversation; with chatter instead of just allowing the quietness to linger. She talks about the absence of speech and positive silence, and writes, ‘…in human experience where there is no speech, no noise, but clearly no sense of loss or deficiency’. We live in a world that is constantly buzzing with activities, forcing us to remain in synch and switched on all the time. Our brain is perpetually alert, monitoring our surrounds, afraid to miss out on something important or get left behind in the social circle, keeping our body in fight-or-flight mode. This can be depleting, both physically and mentally and the brain needs a break.
Silence is simply the obliteration of noise and chaos from around us and within us. These quiet and calm moments allow us to tap into the part of our nervous system that benefits our body and our physical response to stress so we respond better to situations and challenges and do not get overwhelmed. A daily practice of silence can be hugely beneficial and anyone can do it. While there are a host of retreats, spars and escapes promising seekers the best ‘silence experience’ it’s something you can do in your very own space. For starters, getting into a habit can be a challenge. Thankfully, we are culturally adept at the age old practice of yoga, that has been recorded in texts as far back as the third century, and also finds mention in the Yoga Sutra and other early Indian literature; Vedic traditions apart from Jainism, Buddhism, Sufism and Sikhism. Meditation, a key component of yoga, is the best path to achieving silence as it enables the mind to calm down and be still, and self-reflect.
To begin your practice, choose a suitable time of the day when distraction and activity around you is bare minimum. Early morning works for many, and is a good time because then you can also reap the benefits of silence through the day. Practice being still. Take in the surroundings. The quiet moment as the sun begins to appear, transforming the dull dawn sky into vibrant hues. Tune into nature’s sounds – birds chirping, breeze rustling through the leaves. Once you slow down your body movement, your mind will gradually fall into line. You can do this seated at an airy window or in a nature park. Allow silence to guide your thoughts until you are able to take control of them.
At the outset, despite being quiet and still, you may find your mind is still restless and wandering. Spiritual seekers fix their attention on a range of objects of meditation, from a deity, a certain soul, their breath or a positive thought. You can choose an object in front of you, your own distracting thoughts or the stress you feel in your body. The experience
of existing in the present moment, in itself is a lesson in self-awareness and something to build upon. From short sessions comprising few minutes of focus, gradually, when you achieve a deeper level of consciousness, you will be able to focus easier and for longer durations. Allow yourself that time.
No matter how busy we are, we all have some moments of solitude when we are alone. Make the most of this time, when you’re showering, dressing for work, or even during work. Disconnect from external noise by muting your mobile device and minimising background sound be it TV or music. When you’re in company, if possible, try not to speak all the time. Listen instead. Listening is a good skill to help you get into a habit of being silent and not finding the urge to respond to everything you hear. Avoid small talk. It’s frivolous. Make mealtime a period of silence. Cultivate hobbies like gardening or reading which allow you to be by yourself and concentrate on the activity in silence.
Once you begin to enjoy quietness, you will not only look forward to these moments of silence, you will fiercely guard them. For silence in a world of noise and chaos is truly a treasure.