Why spend time in silence?
Today I was thinking about times I have spent in silence and how profound it has been.
People might think, why would you do that, why be silent by choice? There's not an easy answer, I realised, other than a fascination to see what might be there, in the silence.
I remember the first retreat I did in 2000 that was 10 days of silence, well on day 9 you do begin to speak to integrate back into the mundane life from the life of being in retreat.
I remember day 1 as being rather nice not having to talk to anyone and not having to listen to anyone, not having to hear people saying things that make you cringe or that you find offensive.
It feels quite comfortable as the retreat has strict rules and boundaries and you know what you can and can't do so you spend your day meditating, self care, as in washing, eating, walking and not talking, its liberating, nothing to say, nothing to hear!
Day 2 it starts to get odd, I began to feel a bit awkward, I noticed I was feeling more acutely aware of the silence, more uncomfortable as we sat together not saying anything, also beginning to think more about what others might be thinking, wondering if they are thinking things about you or if they are lost in their own head, I found it was more a day of watching others, almost a need to distract oneself from your own thoughts, the need to stay busy, the silence begins to like noise.
Day 3 and I remember feeling like I was noticing my emotions acutely, I was beginning to feel some paranoia not so much about others but about what thoughts were coming up, these judgments about what I was doing, about what others were doing, about life, about humans, relationships, fear, sadness, woha here it came, reality began to rise, the meditation technique was teaching us to be more in the moment, to be present with whatever rose in us. I found as we sat together in silence it became more awkward in these early days, almost like an enforced restriction, then you remember you chose to do this and that feels weird but also quite empowering.
To chose to not speak is a power in itself, it gives you time and space like we never have in life, not when being around others because we either have to listen to them or we have to say something. When we are alone of course we all spend time in silence, there is something very unfamiliar being around others in pure silence.
On retreat you are also away from other noises too, like traffic etc so the silence permeates into you and your surroundings, this is not familiar. It is unfamiliar and in this we begin to realise the deep meaning of how it feels to be alone.
Being alone in silence but also in public too, shows you that we are all alone within our bodies. What connects us is communication, if we don't communicate we remain alone, or do we, is it about energy connection too, I remember sitting next to someone on day 4 and we just sat there together watching nature, were we thinking the same thing? Were we experiencing the same thing, probably not, we each were having our own inner experience in relation to the outer environment and yet we were the same, silent and alone. There was something profoundly beautiful about sitting with a stranger in silence, there was a connection of energy of peaceful ' i'm here with you ' kind of energy. A feeling of pureness maybe of love. Something clear with no judgment, because there is no knowing as nothing has been said, so is this just pure energy? I certainly felt bathed in kindness and a sense of company with no conditions, no judgment just; ' I'm here' wanting nothing, needing nothing, saying nothing, I'm with you' .
As an energy psychotherapist, I have learnt so much more about our energy and it has made me realise more than ever the need to listen to the body to be in the silence and how this communication of energy is so much more profound than the spoken word because it is a purer wisdom, a body wisdom, an inner knowing.
"Realise that silence comes from your heart and not from the absence of talk"
-Thich Nhat Hanh-
With time in silence, I began to hear myself, my heart, that was a feeling like, something I had been listening for but could not hear.
We are so full of noise, if not outer noise, inner chatter, constant thoughts, it takes days of silence to be able to quiet the mind by doing meditation, otherwise I think you might really struggle, the use of breath as an anchor in meditation helps us remain tethered to some kind of grounding. Without this the silence can feel scary and very alone, don't get me wrong there are some very hard moments in this process where `I remember feeling very, very alone and a little unhinged! but being in retreat and knowing what you have to do and having a routine, is important in this process of breaking down the habit of the mind, the business.
In silence we really begin to observe the nature of the mind, you really begin to see how we feel we need things, yet when in fact we need very little.
It can be unsettling and even feel like we are lost, floating in an infinite reality!
When we think, we are our thoughts, we seem to forget we also are our feelings, our imaginings, perceptions and also our love.
When we talk all the time we are distracted from much of the truth, in buddhism they talk of the infinite truth, the idea of reaching beyond ourselves, a spiritual identity outside of being human.
Silence is a way to connect with our spirit, to listen to the spirit within the body, silence allows for deep listening. When we stop chatter and noise things get rowdy, this allows for us to really see how we think, how we imagine, how we live in the past, which happened but is now over and reach for the future which has not yet happened! Silence allows space and mindful curiosity, it allows us time to observe ourselves like we never have before, to really see what might be harboured within us, to allow the walls of protection, fear, sadness to drop down and underneath by about day 8 I remember in the silence, seeing and feeling pure joy! After my next meditation I remember crying, to think it had taken me 8 days of silence and struggle to feel and see joy.
I realised at that moment, the mundane world where we are so busy, I needed to meditate, I realised then that to not meditate I would find it hard to feel this pure joy on a more regular basis .
" If you can take just a few minutes for yourself to calm your body, your feelings, and your perceptions in this way, joy becomes possible.The joy of true quite becomes a daily healing food"
-Thich Nhat Hanh-
Going into silence is profound but also very hard, you need to be ready and it needs to be a conscious choice, a wanting to know, to listen within.
I recently did a 4 day silent retreat and that was such a wonderful thing after this time of Covid and being so in our heads, in fear and worry. There were 7 of us , all women and we shared so much grief, our own and universal, within the silence it was as if our hearts were hearing each other, seeing the pain and sadness of so much loss. We did sing a heart mantra, (i've added the link below ,incase you like a mantra, this is beautiful, Ruthie is one of my teachers and she is a beautiful singer! this is so moving) it was so beautiful and this coming out of the silence was so profoundly sad and beautiful we cried a lot, silently, tears streaming as we sang, as if we were singing for the world and the grief of the last 18 months.
To sit in silence with others is a true privilege and can be incredibly profound and beautiful.
As a therapist which I have been for 12 years now, I know the silence is so valuable, I also am acutely aware I need to go into silence sometimes. As a therapist we hear a lot, and even as humans now more than ever, we bombarded on, social media,the news and in a city like London we are constantly surrounded by noise , words and pictures.
I cherish being able to go into silent retreat as a therapist, maybe because I have done it a fair bit, I find solace in the silence as it takes me back to my body and out of my head.
When you do analytical work you use your head so much but saying that I will often meditate on my thoughts and allow for silence after a session or even within the session, eyes open of course, just noticing my sensations as we sit in silence, I think this can also feel like a holding space as someone processes their way through their pain and suffering in to a more open space to be able to see the clear truth.
So learning to be with silence is a tool that I have brought to my practice it gives me an ability to come back to breath and listen to my body when I'm being told something difficult or even terrible, this allows me to remain as equanimous as possible in that moment as I listen with an open nonjudgmental heart and mind.
I would say, learning to be comfortable in the silence is imperative as a therapists, learning to listen to your body and mind without judgment, allows for a deeper ability to process what is yours and what is the clients emotion and thought.
Holding space for someone in a lot of pain or fear can bring a lot of emotion up within you as a therapist, so being able to listen to your inner silence you are more able have an impartial, strong presence for them alone. this is what we mean when we say 'holding space'.
Heart Mantra with Rithie Smith
Dilgo Khyentsu Guru Yoga