Monday, January 23, 2012

Toward Silence

by Ken Russell

It is somewhat ironic that I need to speak so much of silence. Yet silence is the most potent inducement for spiritual transformation, so potent that no moment of it, however brief or fleeting, is ever wasted. The fruits of silence are one of the few things you can be sure of in this life.

If you are on the spiritual path, you will want to do whatever is necessary to increase the amount of silence in your life. Unfortunately, you cannot make silence happen. You cannot, through exercises, will, or whatever, create silence. Silence happens when you are not there. That is, when you, as a distinct person or personality, are inactive, quiescent, not engaged. It does not mean that you are blotted out but that your personality is put on hold and a vital presence is functioning. Silence is actually a very alive space.

Silence gives us a taste of what we really are. When silence occurs, the focus of our awareness shifts from its mundane concerns and rests in our Being. This is a profound shift, and healing potentials are released. We become open to the vastness that is our true nature. We normally believe we are what we appear to be: the mind, the personality, our memories and history. We get caught up in the dramas that our mind and personality keep on creating. Because we live in and through our mind and are so familiar with its activities, the occurrence of silence—which is actually non-mind—generally does not register. When it does, it scares the personality because it looks like death. To the personality, the halting of its activities appears to be the end of it, death. Personality is akin to a bureaucracy that does not want to end. It does not want to relinquish the control it has over our lives.

Thus, silence does not appeal to the mind, and it does everything it can to avoid it. Sad but true, silence is an acquired taste. Although it is our birthright, something intrinsic to our being, society has buried it. We are trained from birth to have what is called in Buddhism monkey mind. This monkey mind is easily distracted and likes to flit about from one thing to another or, perversely, to obsess on something. Our conditioned mind is attuned to the grosser aspects of life: excitement, highs and lows, learning and achieving. These things create the appearance of aliveness that our conditioned mind so relishes. Silence holds little attraction for the monkey mind.

So it is necessary to become familiar with silence, and learn how to enjoy and be nourished by it. You need to create various ways to bring silence into your life, with the understanding that any doing is in itself "noise." Bringing silence into your life is more a matter of elimination than actively doing something new. You begin by eliminating those activities and attitudes that create noise and mental chatter. You observe the results of your activities and discover that certain ones, like watching TV and gossiping, tend to make your mind more active. You find that other activities, like walking in nature or listening to classical music, leave your mind less busy. So you start to create spaces and conditions where silence is more likely to happen, where silence is invited to arise. You have to invite it and clear the space for it since you cannot directly make it happen.

To make space for silence, you must be vigilant with your free time. What you do with your discretionary time is critical in fostering silence and has a major effect on your spiritual progress. Discretionary time is the time you have available to do exactly what you want with. Most of us have work responsibilities, household chores, perhaps a mate or children that require our time—the basic overhead of living. But over and beyond that, you have time available to use as you wish, even in the busiest schedule. And, if you find that you don't have free time and wish to grow spiritually, it is imperative that you create free time for yourself.

It is much easier for silence to happen when the mind is quiet, so do what you can to quiet your mind. The context for most of our lives is primarily social, and this social life is filled with mental and emotional snacks and feasts. You need to weigh the benefits of momentary social gratifications against the possibility of connecting with something deep within you which is vastly more nourishing.

Instead of feasting on all kinds of goodies, like the news, movies, self-improvement, parties, informative or pseudo-informative books, and gossip, start fasting the mind. Go against the whole trend of society, which is toward constant and excessive stimulation. The mind does not like it when you do this. The mind craves its diet of stimulation. It needs something to occupy itself with. But resist the mind's appetite for stimulation. Fasting the mind issues an invitation for silence to visit.

Normally, the mind is a glutton for activity. Society provides a nonstop carnival of distractions and allurements. If you succeed in avoiding these pitfalls, you will find that the mind still needs to be active and it will provide its own distractions. Mental activity doesn't always need the external to stimulate it. You can be sitting quietly, to all appearances doing nothing, and yet your mind can be working furiously. If you succeed in minimizing external stimulation, the mind will manufacture something to keep itself occupied. It feasts on planning, worrying, scheming, analyzing, fantasizing, regretting, hoping, and so forth. Anything to keep it going and having you believe you need its services. It is like a fireman who, worried about losing his job, goes about starting fires. There is always something that the mind will attempt to snack on. Do not harbor or play with these thoughts or indulge them or take them seriously. If you stop engaging with them—perhaps through meditation or a similar practice—they will die down, and silence will begin to happen.

A powerful aid for using your time wisely is to keep in mind the fact that you may die at any moment. No one can guarantee that you will live another day or even another minute. This is not intended to be morbid but to focus your attention on how you use your most valuable asset, time. Ask yourself how you would want to spend your last moments, and do your best to spend more of your time in those activities.

If you are serious about progressing on the spiritual path, you will be vigilant in how you use your time. The most powerful thing you can do is nothing. When we are silent we are closest to what we really are, an infinity beyond mental comprehension. Give silence a chance. You will find your life transformed without conscious effort.

"It is necessary to become familiar with silence, and learn how to enjoy and be nourished by it."

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