A Practical Advice on How to Practice Silence

Spiritual Silence

by Jayaram V

You can practice silence in many ways. Silencing your speech (vac) is perhaps the easiest and the most well known. Silencing your thoughts is perhaps the most difficult. In between the two, there are many other forms of silence which you can practice.

Life is a form of noise. Each activity impelled by our egos is a noise. The very process of living is noisy and exhausting, both physically and mentally. We turn to noise for distraction or to escape from boredom and the pains and pressures of life. We become silent when we are tired or feel oppressed and defeated by fate and circumstances. It is the silence of resignation or withdrawal, not the silence we really cherish or find invigorating.

We cannot live forever in a silent world. That is certainly true. Any enforced silence, which you do not appreciate, is a kind of punishment. We know how authorities use it under some circumstances to punish people or break them mentally to force them into submission.

One may also use silence to express disapproval or dissatisfaction. When people become angry or hurtful they stop speaking to those who they presume are responsible for it. These are negative ways of using silence to assert oneself or to express one's negativity. I am not going to say whether these methods are good or bad. It depends upon circumstances. You have every right to turn away from people who you think do not respect you, do not treat you well, resent you or envy you for no fault of yours. However, there are better ways to use silence to empower yourself. We will discuss them in this article. We cannot also bear noise beyond a point. To know when to remain silent and when to express our thoughts or when to practice silence and when to break it, it is the hallmark of practical wisdom and we will also learn how to do it here and now.

When you practice silence, you cease to be a source of noise. You will join a select group of people in the world who value deeper aspects of life and prefer viewing life from the silence of their minds and hearts as souls in awe and wonder. When you fill yourself with silence, you move closer to the space around you and in you. We ignore space all the time because we live in an objective world. Space is such. It lets you in and gives you space. There was never a time when space was absent, and there would never be a time when space would disappear. You are a temporary traveler in the vast spaces of the universe. In the vastness of the universe, you have as much freedom as you want to make the loudest noise possible; but in the end you know you will end up in that silence only. Right now, you are enveloped in space. You are pervaded by space, but you hardly notice it because it is always silent. Remaining silent, it facilitates the movement of sound and upholds all manifestation. Hence, truly space is compared to Brahman, the Supreme Self. If you focus upon that space instead of the objects, you will experience greater peace within you and around you.

Focusing on the space within and without is the way of a spiritualist, and focusing on the objects is the way of the materialist. With wisdom you can practice both. In your wakeful state your senses play with objects. In your dream state your mind plays with virtual objects; and in deep sleep you enter that space where all activity ceases to exist and you become one with the silence of space itself. That silence invigorates you and revitalizes you more than all the food (sense-objects) you consume.

Following are a list of silences you can practice entering that space in your heart, your body, your mind, the world and the universe. When you practice silence, you experience tranquility, balance, sameness and heightened awareness that has its source in your intelligence. In the silence of your heart, with your thoughts, feelings and emotions resting in that silence, you will see the truth regarding yourself and the world around you very differently. With the knowledge arising from that profound experience, you will cultivate discernment, patience and understanding in resolving your problems and dealing with people and situations.

Silencing your speech: Speech is where we create most noise. With speech we not only create noise but also attract noise. The first step in practicing silence is to know when to speak and when to remain silent. Then learning to speak only when necessary. Further on the path, begin to silence your negative speech or avoid using words and expressions that are abusive, immoral, or hurtful. Then learn to practice total silence for a specific time. You may do it for a few hours or a few days, depending upon your convenience.

Silencing your feelings and emotions: The mind is also noisy. Others may not hear that noise, but you do all the time. Your mind speaks to you in a thousand ways, with words, feelings, emotions, thoughts, ideas and even dreams. Therefore, you have to deal with the silence of your mind in specific ways. As a first step, focus on specific feelings and emotions, such as anger, greed, fear, or envy that your find particularly troubling and learn to remain calm and observant with they hit you with full force.

Silencing your desires: The desires are actually the source of all noise in your life and in the life others. You are peaceful to the extent you control them. You cannot totally suppress all desires. You have to learn to fulfill what you can and accept what you cannot. To gain control over your mind and body, you may begin to control or cope with simple desires such as your desire for a particular food or entertainment and gradually extend it to other desires which may be interfering with your material or spiritual progress.

Silencing your ego: The source of your desires is your ego. It is your desire to be and to become, which creates a lot of noise in your life both internally and externally. Therefore, you have to learn to silence your ego and keep it under control through self-negation. This can be done in many ways, such as, for example, silencing your urge to speak about yourself or defend yourself, silencing your urge to belittle someone, control others or be the center of attention.

Silencing your critical judgment: This is also an aspect of your ego only. You criticize yourself or others because you want to have things your way. You can begin this practice with the people you usually criticize, hate or dislike, the ideas and situations you find distasteful and move on to more important areas in your life and relationships where you critical attitude may be interfering with your life, progress or success.

Silencing your habits: When we perform actions repetitively out of desires, they become habits. Such habits can be either mental or physical and in both cases we suffer from the noise they generate as ripples and modifications. As in other cases you can begin by learning to silence a few simple negative habits that may be impairing your health or happiness and move on to more serious ones.

Silencing your thoughts: This is perhaps the most difficult step in achieving complete, inner silence. Until your mind is fully silenced and stabilized, you cannot overcome the modifications of your mind and experience stability and equanimity. To achieve this objective, you can practice yoga and meditation, which are very helpful to achieve control over the movements of your mind and stabilize it.

From the above it is clear that practicing silence is not as easy or simple as it appears on the surface. You can practice it in many different ways. Each of the methods requires sustained effort and prolonged practice, before you attain a satisfactory level of progress. If you are serious about this idea, you should plan your silent retreats well in advance and maintain a journal. You can also invite other people and practice in groups.

Perhaps many people do not know, the ultimate purpose of yoga is to silence your mind and body so that you can discern the Self hidden in you. In yoga, we go beyond ordinary silences. We learn to silence the breath, the heart and various bodily functions. This is the ultimate perfection. In our tradition, whoever reached this exalted position was known as the silent one (muni). In worldly life, you are taught not to remain silent but react to people and situations to protect, pursue and promote your interests and safeguard yourself from injustice, untruth or perceived threats. In spiritual life, you are advised to surrender to noise or retreat from it to enter profound silence to achieve peace and stability. By following the middle path, we can draw inspiration from both approaches and use silence discretely to purse excellence in our professional lives and experience and peace and stability in our personal lives. We can learn to express ourselves effectively with right choice or words and practice silence occasionally to experience peace and tranquility and gain greater control over our thoughts, desires and emotions. I will conclude this discussion with these seven truths about silence worth remembering and useful for meditation.

1. Silencing your mind and body is the ultimate purpose of yoga.

2. Death is Nature's way of restoring silence.

3. Entering eternal silence is salvation.

4. Silence is always there in you and around you, even when there is noise.

5. When you find silence, you find peace.

6. When you become silent, you become the witnessing Self.

7. When your mind is silent, your wisdom eye opens.

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