The music of silence
We have to penetrate the cluttered noisiness of our mind and the world around us to reach where absolute silence alone remains. When we know silence, we shall know ourselves.
By Anuradha Vashisht
What is silence? And what is our connection with it?
Silence could have different meaning for different human beings. While to a child it could mean minimum of noise that doesn’t break mom’s disturbance barrier, to a mother silence becomes an urgency difficult to maintain as she goes about her daily chores over the sleeping infant. Between lovers silence could vary from going speechless with emotion to expressing their hurt. In couples it could mean a sulky standoff or a cold war or a mutual understanding as they feel more comfortable in togetherness. To a warrior or a soldier silence could be both a premonition of a looming attack to a truce with the enemy.
Is silence mere noiselessness? Can absence of noise be called silence? When a teacher raps her class to hush and says, “Silence, please!”, does she mean silence or merely asks them to sit quiet? Is noiselessness silence? There have been times when I have encountered silence in the disturbingly chirpy sounds of birds at dusk. There were moments when I glimpsed deep silence amongst the blaring horns of the rush hour evening traffic in the Capital city. Ever heard the silence in a musical note?
Silence, it appears, has no persona of its own except what one’s mind gives it. Thus we have bestowed many adjectives on silence. Stony silence, disturbing silence, deathly silence, frightening silence, impregnable silence, hushed silence, pregnant silence, musical silence …. But this is only in the material world. When we rise above the earthly silence, we move towards a silence that needs no adjectives. It is just silence—deep, enriching, absolute. This silence alone has meaning, where one becomes silence itself. Rest all becomes redundant.
It is amazing how eloquent could silence be. And humans, it seems, have an intimate connection with silence. It keeps coming to us in any number of mysterious ways. Somewhere deep down, in the farthest recesses of our consciousness, we seem to have some very deep connection with it. We are unable to understand it or reach it, probably because between silence and us we have raised multi-dimensional walls. We almost try to deny silence, which is the core of our being, even defy it. In fact most of us are quite uncomfortable with it. We seem to fight silence, even defeat it, as we announce our arrival in this world with a loud, piercing wail.
Beyond mind’s clatter
Just as we have to penetrate the heart of darkness to see the flaming light, thus we have to penetrate the cluttered noisiness of our mind and the world around us to reach where silence alone remains.
But why silence? According to Sri Yogiraj Nanak, who has established the Adhyatmik Sadhna Sangh in Delhi, the essence of life is ever flowing and eternal. If we want to express it in its entirety, or even attempt to do so, we can succeed only to a limited extent. In such a scenario, when our senses, mind and intellect fall short of expressing all, another expressive channel called maun (silence) opens up. “If the speaker can communicate through the silence and the listener can listen silently, it is the most powerful means of communication. And in spiritual learning, it plays a dominant role,” he says.
He explains that a quiet communication is most important in a scenario where two individuals are burdened with different sanskaras (inherited traits, impressions, memories) due to bonding with particular religion, ethnicity, culture or country. In which case, the connotation of a word or its sentiments remain tied to sanskaras, however subtle the words may be.
In an essay, Maun Samvad (Dialogue in Silence), Yogiraj Nanak says: “Life’s essence cannot fully blossom into words. Maun has the essence, which always exists in the present, and is free of Ahankar (ego). The speaker’s or the listener’s ego (‘I know this’ and ‘I don’t know this’) always takes them to I-ness instead of Be-ness and Is-ness. Once freed from Ahankar, what remain are purity, beauty and nectar of peace and solitude. The power of peace thus obtained is so strong that our life within remains unshaken by the storm and stress without. In short, Maun calms the mind and thus fills the whole life with peace.”
Says a Vipassana meditator, who has been practicing for 15 years: “Silence is the medium that takes us forward on the journey from the apparent self to the real self. When we are silently observing the body, and observing the mind, this something that is witnessing is silence, the real self. We are constantly allowing in the garbage through our five doors—the senses—and we are constantly reacting to it. Silence takes us beyond the sense experiences to the real experience.”
Osho too describes the importance of silence in our lives beautifully: “Only silence can be heard and understood. Words can be heard but only superficially, and can be understood but only intellectually. Silence is heard existentially and is understood from your innermost being. It is a total understanding… Silence means you have put aside the whole furniture of the mind—the thoughts, the desires, the memories, the fantasies, the dreams, you have all pushed aside. You are just looking into existence directly, immediately. You are in contact with existence without anything in between you and existence. That is silence. Silence is usually understood to be something negative, something empty, an absence of sound, of noises. This misunderstanding is prevalent because very few people have ever experienced silence. All they have experienced in the name of silence is noiselessness. But silence … is overflowing with a music that you have never heard before, with a fragrance that is unfamiliar to you, with a light that can only be seen with the inner eyes. It is not something fictitious; it is a reality, and a reality which is already present in everyone – just we never look in.”
The silence within
And how can we look in and reach the silence within us, touch the silence of our being? To reach the real silence, the absolute silence, we need to transcend the silence of the body, the silence of the heart and finally the silence of the mind. Thus before we merge with eternal silence we shall need to reach, touch and then transcend the silence at the physical, emotional and mental level.
How would we know the silence of the body? No, let me put it differently. What would disturb the silence of the body?
Most immediately, any sickness in the body would disturb its silence. The disturbance is directly proportionate to the level of physical suffering. A patient howling in pain could shatter even the physical silence in a hospital.
An inability to feel comfortable with your body can also disturb its silence. The fidgetiness, the restlessness we see in the majority of human beings today indicates how far removed they are from the silence of the body. Rarely can we find people in today’s world who can sit still or calm in one place for a longer period. The problem of hyperactivity is increasing alarmingly in children. Some people constantly need a prop for their body like smoking, moving their bodies to the beat of real or imagined music, shuffling feet, shaking a leg while sitting in a chair, swaying their body, inane scratching, constantly doing something or other with their hands, asking for tea or coffee over boredom, and so on. The inability to connect to the silence of the body makes us find excuses to keep on indulging in some inane physical activity or the other. There appears to be some difficulty in being comfortable with one’s body, just being with oneself.
Most of the physical activity like the one described here is also an expression of the clatter in the mind. Boredom and silence are the two ends of the same spectrum. But while boredom pulls you down, silence releases you.
At the mental level too primarily two things disturb our silence. One, a never-ending caravan of thoughts passing through our mind removes us further and further away from the silence of our being. As they say, a single thought can disturb the silence of your mind the way a small pebble thrown into the silent lake is enough to create thousands of ripples and disturb its tranquility. Secondly, the cacophony that we have surrounded ourselves with also ruffles the still pool of our existence.
Our heart is another playground where hide-and seek is played out every moment of our life. Interestingly, it is the heart that takes us away from our real self at the narrow spectrum, and also introduces us to the Supreme Self at its broadest spectrum. Meera, Kabir, Tukaram, Guru Nanak, the Sufi saints all climbed through their hearts’ broad spectrum to reach the silence of the heart and then transcend it. We continue to linger at the narrow spectrum, holding tightly to our overriding desires for coca-cola, pizzas, latest gadgetry, NRI spouse, bigger house, zanier car, power, ambitions for our offspring… it is endless. When we push the desires out of our heart, silence will show up.
Thus we have to work at all the three levels and then transcend them to reach silence. How do we do that?
At the physical level, first, work to free your body of all encumbrances. Choose a day that suits you, and fast at least one day in a week. Fast only on green coconut water or diluted raw vegetable or fruit juices taken about four times a day with proper gaps. The best is to fast only on water. But do that once a month. For physical problems, build up your own immunity by depending upon nature and natural means rather than drugs and medications.
At the emotional level, live by genuine needs and not by desires. We will realise how needlessly we buy and consume. If new brands are launched every month, we need not go for them at the same speed. Have we ever realised how much burden that puts on Mother Earth? We have inexcusably disturbed, in fact destroyed beyond repair, the silence of our environment. My first mobile phone is now three years old. I never felt the need to change the model, since it serves its purpose perfectly well. It gives me the basic mobility and the convenience for others to reach me whenever necessary. The desire for novelty factor is an expression of boredom. Movement away from boredom will take us towards silence. The simpler our life is, easier it is to be always surrounded by silence.
Intentional silence/Maun vrat
Meditation of course is the sure shot way of knowing silence. It stills the mind and takes us towards no-mind awareness. Sages, saints and gurus have highly recommended maun vrat (intentional silence), where the seeker goes into silence for an extended period of time. It is a part of quite a few meditation courses conducted by many masters. Yogis and sages of yore went into silence (maun) with a full awareness of the concept, which is only superficially understood by majority of seekers today. Here, silence is observed at all levels. Foremost is the silence of the five senses, the withdrawal from all sensory desires. That is how maun vrat blends so well with upvaas (fasting). At its subtlest and the most refined level, silence is knowing and knowing is silence.
The clue here is not to deny your self the sensory experience but to enter it, witness it objectively, and attain the wisdom of knowing its transience. For example, if we try to deny ourselves a delicious meal laid out in front of us, it is most likely that our mouth will still water. If we observe and absorb its smell with a focus on our breath, let the salivary glands work and exhaust, in a few moments we will succeed in lifting ourselves above the momentary experience and almost have a feeling of satiation. But we need not do this every time. Similarly, if we dispassionately witness all our desires and cravings, a time will come when we shall be able to distance ourselves from them, and we will reach a beautiful sense of calm and peace, a stillness of desires.
To begin with, allot a time and place to yourself, where once a month, and if possible, once a week (increase the duration and frequency as you move on), observe complete silence. It should be complete in the sense that during that period surrender yourself totally to your intention. Merely keeping mute is not maun vrat.
According to Ms Shama Sharma, who has practised guided spiritual maun off and on, it is more important to keep internal maun rather than external maun. For someone in maun who cannot give up the desire to communicate with the external world and keeps doing it either by sign language or by involvement in other activities cannot find the bliss that is in real silence. When she recently practised a 40-day maun, she would break the silence whenever she felt the real urge to communicate verbally, though such moments were rare. “At such a time my mind would create more noise than my spoken words. So it is better to get over with what’s bugging you and then carry on,” she says.
So if we intend to keep silent for two hours, but all the while we are thinking of what we are going to do rest of the day, or what are we going to cook for dinner, or what jobs need to be finished, that is no maun. To reach internal maun, complete withdrawal from the world and from all external experiences is important.
But this, again, is only the beginning. Absolute silence is arrived at after successfully crossing over all thought walls, which might seem difficult but practice makes it possible. Silence comes with stillness of the mind and heart alone. Silence is losing self to timelessness.
To make it happen simply, and effortlessly, begin by listening to the silence of the sun, to the silence of the moon, to the silence of the earth, to the silence of the air we breathe, to the silence of the sky. Have we ever noticed how silent they are? And yet they communicate so much, give so much. When we start observing silence in the most unlikely places and moments, stillness will start happening on its own, effortlessly. The icing on the cake comes when we are able to glimpse silence in the gaps between each of our thoughts, as the masters keep urging us to do. Then we will know that we are arriving home.
But why do we need to go into silence? Why do we need to know it or to reach it? Because when we know silence, we shall know ourselves. When we reach silence, we reach the supreme power that is often called God. Silence is shoonya, the no-mind state which every yogi, every sincere sadhak aspires for. Silence springs forth from the ultimate union.
From silence alone do we move to our pure and real potentiality. Stillness of body, mind and spirit conserves our energy. A single useless thought can burn up more of our energy than what a mason spends in building a wall. A single moment of unbridled passion may destroy much more of our energy than what we can build in a month’s regular and sincere meditation. Imagine how much good work we can do in the world, with all that energy at our disposal? How come true saints and gurus are able to do so much for the community and humanity? Their silence moves and inspires others to do it. Through silence one gets access to all creativity.
The journey towards silence is a constant economising on thoughts, on desires, on passions. It is also a journey towards higher awareness. In the womb of absolute silence resides all creation.
Want some quiet?
To move towards absolute silence, one first needs to break the initial barrier between external silence and the cacophony we are surrounded with. To reduce the noisiness around us, and lessen the noise pollution for which we alone are responsible, we can do the following:
- Do not keep the TV or the radio, or the music system on when no one is listening to it.
- While watching TV or listening to music, keep the volume at a comfortably low level, where it is audible without straining ourselves. At times, we do not pay attention to what volume it is set. We might realise it can be considerably brought down.
- Instead of having a monologue with TV when you get back from work in the evening, try having a dialogue with the setting sun, or with the moon, or the stars, or the plants and trees around you.
- While at home or in office, try becoming conscious of the fact that often we talk for the sake of talking. Try reducing our contribution to the verbal chatter around us.
- Consciously work towards minimising noise and the clatter around us. For example, while removing a piece of furniture from place a to b, lift it rather than drag it. See how we can reduce the noise level while cooking, washing, starting our vehicle early morning and in other daily activities. Soon everything will seep into our consciousness and we would have done our bit in surrounding ourselves with silence and peace.
- Work towards making all our actions a symphony, a rhythmic play of activities and remove the clutter, the sloppiness around us.
- If driving alone, what better opportunity to be with yourself and silence. Keeping the mobiles on at this time are both a driving hazard as well as an intrusion into some of our silent moments. Practice of physical and mental maun during driving will also see us calmly sailing through the crazy traffic and road rages.
- Keep sometime for yourself in a day when you are doing nothing. Cease all activity; try to shut out all possible noises if you can.
- Enrich yourself with the early morning silence in a park or a terrace. Catch this silence before the milkman or the newspaper vendor catches you.
- Identify a place where you can spend some quiet moments all by yourself everyday. Newly-become mothers, do not lose heart. Do listen, in silence, to your baby’s tender breath and its rapidly beating heart as it sleeps in innocence.
- Instead of always looking for company, look for solitude for some moments in a day, or some days in a month.
- Those who cannot do any of the above … God save them!