(Written October 20th, 2011)
Yogic Tradition of Practicing Silence
Yesterday, for the first time in my life (that I am at least consciously aware of) I spent an entire day from waking to bedtime, without uttering a single word. This was part of a day of silence in the Ashram, so almost everyone participated. Although, most people began speaking again after dinner, I continued with the practice.
The practice of silence has been part of yogic traditions for probably as long as there has been yoga. I will admit, even in my daily life, I prefer as much silence around me as possible. I would rather sit in a silent room than watch TV on most occasions. I would rather not speak at all than to force a conversation of pleasantries. And I have even become pretty sensitive to the types of music I listen to on a regular basis. (Spending hours a day with massage and new age music played at low volumes will probably do that to most people.)
A Deeper Sense of Awareness
So, I welcomed the practice. I went to bed the previous evening, having already turned my “silence” practice on, and when I awoke, I was already in the mode. The first thing I noticed, was that it was very comfortable for me. During the morning meditation, having already turned my awareness away from speech, I became aware of the inner realm of thought very easily, and it was also easy on this particular morning to direct my awareness into the silence within as well.
I also noticed I become more sensitive to other sounds. The sounds of birds chirping, or any little bit of racket that may have been in the outside environment. I was present to new things. Within the meditation, there were times when something in my mind let go just enough, that it felt like the outer world merged into my mind, and the sounds of birds and the wind blowing were like thoughts arising within my own mind.
After morning asana practice, I spent some time outside connecting with nature. I discussed this in a previous post called “My Tantric Nature.” And then the flow of the day began. People going about walking from place to place, without speaking. And I began to notice something very odd. People, having adopted a practice of silence, seemed to enter their own private world. People were looking at the sidewalk instead of saying hello. It seemed that without words, most people didn’t know how to connect, or perhaps thought it was inappropriate to do so. No eye contact. No smiles. No winks of joy shared. Just blank faces, looking any where but an another person.
Looking Right into One’s Soul
In Tantra, there is a practice called Eye Gazing, or Soul Gazing. It is sitting in silence, sending your awareness deep into the Soul Essence of another person, and allowing yourself to feel, to connect, to experience another Being without words, as they also connect into your deepest Self. This practice, at least in the beginning, is often met with discomfort. It is normal for people to laugh or giggle, or to close their eyes. It is normal for obvious discomfort to come across their face and body, and to see them squirming. I explain over an over to new groups of people, that these reactions are a part of our conditioning. It is rare in our culture for us to be so intimate with another. Even with the ones that we love such as friends, family and significant others.
Most of us say we want love, to feel it, to know it, to give it. But when given the chance to sit, and honor the Essence of the other people with love and reverence, something stirs within us that pulls us out of it, that causes us discomfort. The reality, is that for most of us, this fear of deeper connection is always there, just below the surface, but we don’t feel it because we distract ourselves with thoughts, with TV, with activity, and of course, with words. We don’t allow there to be enough silence, enough stillness to acknowledge it.
The same is true for many people with regards to their own thoughts and feelings. We find ways to distract ourselves, and never get still enough to feel or connect consciously to our own inner world. The moment silence is imminent, most people will jump up, turn on the TV, grab a book, begin to talk about anything that comes to mind: anything to not have to feel what is happening in our deeper experience.
As I watched the blank faces parading through the ashram, and the gazes away from each other, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of sadness. Sadness for not having an opportunity to connect, and sadness to see so many unable to make the connection without words. Without words, they seemed to have nothing to share. It never occurred to share their silent Essence. That same silence which pulses beneath Creation lives within our own Beings, ready to be tasted, touched and felt. That silence contains the Love we are seeking. It is not the words that convey love, but the Essence of a Pure Heart.
Reflections on Speaking and not Speaking
As I continued my day, I enjoyed the silence. I watched for moments when I might ordinarily speak, and then questioned whether speaking was necessary. In most cases I found the answer to be no. When a desire to speak would arise, I would watch as I reminded myself there was no talking today. And I witnessed the desire for whatever pass through, unspoken, and not responded to. And after the moment passed, I realized I was no worse off. I was still content, even joyful in my silence, and the thing I thought I wanted to communicate, or thought I wanted to ask made me no less joyful for not being shared. I was content to experience what was around me, without commenting, or feeling a need to inquire deeper into it with words. I was content without feeling the need to request something else to make it more or less “satisfying”.
What are these words we speak? And why do we speak them at all? How much of what is said is really useful to our deeper happiness, and how much is just habit and social convention and expectation?
The Tantric traditions describe three primary stages of speech. There is the gross speech of our everyday lives. This is the speech we use to share ideas from person to person, and vibrates at the most dense level. We then have a more subtle form of speech that we call thought. This is the speech that continues the dialogue in our own inner world. And beyond that is the most subtle form of speech, which exists as the arising impulse of vibration, that eventually becomes the thought, which then becomes the words spoken.
The normal world conditions us to focus on Gross speech. And over time, we come to identify with and give great importance to the Reality of this outer form of speech. Most of us also give, even without realizing it, great importance to our thoughts.
When one takes up the practice of silence, the outer speech is given up. This initially leaves us with our thoughts, and the opportunity to contemplate our relationship with gross speech. It gives us the opportunity to experience life without outer words, so that we might see how we have come to identify with them in a way that keeps us looking into the outer world. It gives us a chance to see how the words themselves are associated with our desires, attachments and aversions, and the way that words reinforce the same as “reality”.
When the inner thoughts become the primary world, and outer speech is stopped, then the next step is to get beyond even the thoughts themselves, and into the arising vibrations which are pre-thought. A realm of feelings, and intuitions, and knowledge that really has no “word” as we call it, just vibrations. And dissolving even those vibrations, we are taken into the realm of the practice of silence: inner silence itself. This Silence is the Holy Grail of meditation, but it is not just emptiness and nothingness, but is great peace, joy and love.
This is the basic general idea of meditation, and practicing silence gives you an opportunity to explore these levels of meditation in your daily living. To discover this peace and silence within the world around you is a goal of Tantra. We practice meditation so that we can transfer the depth of experience into our daily lives, not just to escape for a few minutes of peace.
Throughout the whole day, my voice only made one sound: the sound of laughter. After dinner, there were a few people speaking around me, and a story someone told made me laugh. So even Gross speech has its place. It caused me to laugh.
It is not that gross speech is “wrong” or bad. It is not that it should be given up entirely forever by everyone, but practicing silence should hopefully help us put it in perspective, so we don’t make it the “great reality”, and so that we see its limitations. So that we see the ways it can distract us, and become mindful so we don’t use words in this way. To become mindful of the ways words can harm, so we don’t use speech for negative purposes. So we learn to harness what, when and why we speak into conscious choices which enrich our lives, rather than just allowing mindless chatter to fill the silent space around us. So that we connect the words “I love you” with the deep love that arises within the Heart of our deepest Essence upon recognizing the Sacredness of the Being in front of us. And so we can learn to connect with others is this heart felt way even without words. So that silence gives us more presence to connect with others through smiles, honoring and love.
As I flowed through my day of silence, many moments of deeper love, gratitude and joy arose, as I touched into spaces of deeper silence within my own Being. This brought me to one other point of sadness: I will never be able to convey the experience of that Love and Joy with words.