Silence is golden
Having had a very busy couple of weeks, with a report submission, house move and interview, I came across a timely article, prior to all those things happening in the space of 5 days, on the power of silence (which I’ve written towards the end of this post). We live in a world where it feels like everything happens at 100mph and we barely get a moment to stop and breathe. I think the fast pace of modern day living has partly fuelled the gravitational-like pull of mindfulness for many people, but mindfulness is not an easy practice to do, let alone to commit to on a regular basis. Focusing on the breath, noticing when the mind wanders and bringing attention back to the breath are effortful. Silence, on the other hand, only requires us to observe what arises in our environment, be it sensory things or thoughts. It is simply about consciously acknowledging what comes into our awareness. What it has in common with mindfulness is the emphasis on non-judgment but where it diverges is in the lack of demand for attention to be brought back to the breath. We fill our lives with so much noise - think email notifications, music, chatter in the restaurants we dine in, an endless to-do list - all things which demand a piece of our time and effort, that I sometimes feel the last thing we need is something yet more effort-intensive. Silence provides the perfect, passive antidote to our busy, active lives. It not only calms the mind but also cultivates an appreciation for life in its full essence.
I started to feel a sense of this awareness that silence imparts when typing the translation of the article in the quiet of the studio apartment I’ve recently moved into; understanding through application, its magic suddenly taking hold. Listening to the tactile sound of the keys being pressed punctuating the silence was soothing in a way I hadn’t expected or indeed even really noticed or paid attention to before. A day or two ago, my mind had been marinating in the disappointment of an interview which could have gone better and in the uncertainty of not knowing the outcome yet. Again, in the quiet of my apartment, I made peace with myself and decided not to get so hung up about the outcome. Come what may, I gave it my best shot and if it wasn’t to be, then not getting the role would free up time for my other pursuits. It was like the peace triggered a switch that made me detach from it a bit more emotionally and made me realise life was bigger than just this one interview. Perhaps it also had something to do with the fact that I had spent at least the last few months living with my mum who (has schizophrenia and) talked to herself seemingly non-stop, to the point where it was driving me crazy. The peace and quiet were therefore a welcome contrast but what silence does is it allows you the space to sit with uncertainty and to be ok with it.
Silence also accentuates the sensory. After such a hectic week, which also involved an improvisation workshop and software training, I was grateful for the good weather and took some time out towards the end of the week, when my calendar was practically (and blissfully) empty, to sit in the sun, surrounded by plants. Finally having some time to myself, I could really feel the warmth of the sun’s rays on my skin. It also made me appreciate the sounds of everyday life, from the mundane sound of footsteps and someone riding a bicycle to the beautiful sound of birdsong.
FOMO (fear of missing out) seems to be more of a concern among people these days but the unfortunate side effect is that it makes us say ‘yes’ to almost everything. Silence gives our hearts and minds the clarity and freedom to be more selective with how we spend our time and only agree to the things or experiences that truly give us joy and enrich our lives…...and that is what is truly important, to know that we’re not missing out but rather enhancing the experiences we do decide to go for. Life is a bit like squash (the drink): the less you dilute it with other experiences, the sweeter it tastes. Who doesn’t want to make their life sweeter? Now here is a whole article on why it's important to embrace silence in our lives:
Silence allows extraordinary things to happen
It’s a requirement for communication in its most authentic sense and also for music.
Silence forms part of life; in each instance, we have the opportunity to listen to our inner world and discover what silence brings us.
In society and with the pace we live at, we are so used to the noise that even unconsciously, and therefore in an automatic way, we look to fill our time with more noise, sounds, words, etc. However, when everything switches off, on disconnecting the mobile phone, the music, emails and any other daily habit, it’s possible to realise that something even bigger arises.
In silence, the magnitude of life appears, the simplicity, the flow, the possibility of observing things from a wider perspective. We only need to give ourselves permission to be with ourselves, or better, to be in ourselves.
To listen to silence is within everyone’s reach and it requires neither rituals nor sophisticated skills. Listening to silence properly requires an act of generosity with yourself and of understanding of the mechanisms of the mind. Our thoughts are in constant movement, it’s something that forms part of human nature. Whatever happens, the mind usually expresses some opinion in that respect; sometimes to criticise or demand more of ourselves, others to analyse what happens in pursuit of the vision that it judges more appropriately. Yes, it’s true that the mind carries out vital functions and important cognitions for our survival and well-being; it’s also the case that it can’t resolve all the issues we face using logic - well, there are aspects that pass it by and that it can’t manage to understand.
The mind also makes mistakes. It’s what usually occurs when it turns over many things. It seems then that the mind gets stuck and, not being able to find any solutions, repeats the same reason with the hope of finding an answer. In those moments, it’s very useful to disconnect from the process and rest.
It is then that silence gives us the opportunity to observe ourselves from another place, without judging our behaviours and decisions so severely, and recognising our capabilities in order to resolve what worries us. Many big discoveries are the fruit of moments of silence in which what are called ‘insights’ are produced: instances of intuition and clarity where everything fits together and makes sense.
How to cultivate silence
Simply, it’s necessary to want to do it, putting intention into it and being kind to yourself. It’s about being aware and deciding what we want to pay attention to. Over the day, we are exposed to many external stimuli that we attend to without even deciding to do it. This not only happens with sounds but also with images and public messages, the press, the internet, the establishments etc.
In order to cultivate silence, it helps in the first instance to get away from the noise and find a space to be alone. It is then when it’s possible to start practising, getting to know what our internal dialogue is like and coming to terms with it.
Respecting thoughts as part of our mental process and at the same time expanding the internal vision to other spaces free from judgments is a journey that brings us closer to inner calm. That is the objective of many mystiques and meditators: the state of complete awareness, the prelude to enlightenment. In such a state, everything is here and now, an instance of spaciousness and fullness. But such a practice taken to the extreme can take us away from the life that unites us more with others. The question would therefore be until when it is appropriate to be in such states as a priority.
Life is broad and complex. To know that we have in each instance the opportunity to stop ourselves in order to listen to ourselves is important and very efficient. It’s not necessary to retire to a temple, to disconnect from our daily routines or to learn a certain skill. It’s enough to trust in our own instinct and inner wisdom.
Silence helps us to be aware of the here and now and to have more strength and presence in our lives.
An underlying ability
All human beings have the ability to listen to themselves. Learning to do it in a constructive way involves respecting ourselves and understanding that many of the things that a person says to themselves is the result of a habit maintained during a good part of their life.
Silence requires inner listening and sometimes, that can frighten, but who dares to cross that first threshold for listening discovers very kind and enriching spaces inside. There are people who hide from silence so as not to hear what they don’t like about themselves. However, whoever gives themselves the opportunity to observe what is said to themselves can understand how that affects their behaviour.
On crossing this first stage, we can start to recognise what we think without having to fight against it. We then start to discover a space which not only leads us to get to know ourselves better but also to be more in ourselves. So we access the purest of human essence and the power of reconciling with ourselves and with the environment. Relationships and daily activities become easier and more fluid. Silence requires an attitude of inner recognition that can be practised in daily acts. There is where we can really find the most valuable silences, the pauses and the most surprising answers.
The calm of looking
On looking, we usually focus our attention on a concrete goal. For example, on the pavement we walk attentively in order to make our way between people and dodge possible obstacles, but there are ways of observing from the stillness and without intention. When the eyes widen and we relax because there’s no need to analyse nor to control anything external, stillness settles and allows you to experience inner silence, being aware of the outer pace of life. To be able to feel inner stillness, respecting the fact that everything outside follows its own pace provides strength and better decision-making capacity. This practice allows us to be in ourselves and not to be dragged by the pace of others. We gain an authentic presence.
The meaning of silence
Silence helps us to be aware of the here and now, and therefore, to have more strength in life and presence in the face of others. Silence connects us to life, to breathing and the essence of things.
It helps to simplify, to differentiate the important from the irrelevant, to look after ourselves with respect and to give us the opportunity to be with ourselves from another place, living completely in the body. Silence brings a wide and comfortable environment. The key to finding the journey towards wellbeing and the comfort of our silence and that of the others resides in our attitude. To do that, we need to learn to listen to what occurs to us and what crosses the mind of others without having to add noise to the silences.
Beauty and sense
When we stop to contemplate a landscape or scenery or a daily situation from a point of inner stillness, it’s possible to perceive how something more beautiful is born which goes beyond the sounds and the images…..because everything that is looked at with wholeness and awareness acquires beauty and meaning. In those moments, the mind empties in order to fill itself with the fullness of silence and harmony.
Faced with such a pure and enriching experience, words are therefore not needed. Recreating those states of contemplation is possible in daily moments: waiting for the bus, in a park, in the queue of a supermarket, cooking, in the light of the moon… Any time is good if we commit to the intention of discovering what emerges beyond the sounds.
Paying attention to the outer silence allows the inner calm to rise to the surface.
The company of silence
Every moment is full of silences. With practice, we come to discover that even in the noise, there are silences that can become more present in our lives. It all depends on where attention is focused, because what we attend to becomes bigger and more important.
We can practise listening to the silences that are produced in the spaces between the words of a conversation and see what happens. A feeling of greater presence and depth may appear in that moment and with that person. In any place, we can pay more attention to the silence than to the sounds. As Eckhart Tolle says in his book ‘The Power of Now’: “Paying attention to the outer silence creates an inner silence, it calms the mind down. Every sound is born out of silence, dies again in silence and during its lifespan is surrounded by silence. Silence allows the sound to be.”
In a conversation with a friend or relative appears the opportunity to listen to one another and at the same time to listen to ourselves from inner silence. Experience listening between the words, the silences of the words and the words of the silences. It’s usually not uncommon to neglect listening to another person when conversing with them. Often, we anticipate the speech ahead or our response when the other person still hasn’t finished their explanation. The result is that the other person does not feel listened to, the communication dilutes and loses quality. To listen to the other person is to stay silent and emptied of thoughts while they speak. It is to learn to respect the rhythm they need in order to express themselves. The impatience for wanting to give a response can lead to not listening attentively and therefore to not understand the needs of the other person.
To be aware that we can have a time and space of inner silence to respond is to respect ourselves and others without having to fill the silence that is created in that moment. That is the discomfort that is worth overcoming. A silence can come to be more illuminating than many words rushed in the anxiety of saying something and arguing out of the blue.
As the Arabic proverb says: Keep quiet if what you're going to say is no more beautiful than silence.