Silence has had a big impact on me. It seems that in silence everything is found.
Very early, in my late teens, I found I was somehow affected by silence. I seemed drawn to it or, rather, it seem to pull me in. It seemed that it wanted me more than I wanted it as I never consciously sought it. In fact, I resisted it for some time. This is because in silence there can be great pain and anguish. The deafening sound of silence can be maddening at times as well. This made me apprehensive about silence at first. On the other hand, there seemed something I needed in silence. Sometimes, anything that disrupts the silence can cause me great anguish. As a result, noise became a problem for me and still is. If I need silence any noise – a car, a plane, people’s voices, a radio – can drive me up the wall. Silence, then, is like a double edge sword. In it pain and strife was often found. Without it pain and strife was often found.
But, yet, something draws me to it. Over the years silence has been a big part of my life. It’s grown on me. As I grow older I seem to appreciate it more and I don’t fight it as much. I’ve become accustomed to it.
THE PRESENCE AND THE YEARNING
Silence, to me, is all about the ‘presence’. This is a deep inner feeling that there is a ‘something’ there, a living, divine, sacred thing. It is in all things, everywhere. I cannot see it. I cannot touch it. I only can feel it to a point, which is always inadequate. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that I ‘sense’ something. This ‘sense’ makes me yearn for this ‘something’. This I call the ‘great yearning’.
Over the years I’ve found that the presence and the great yearning are really flipsides of the same side. Without the other it is incomplete. Associated with both of these is the ‘passion’.
The silence within is a loud voice, I always thought, like the great roar of a thunderous waterfall. The great passion that resides in the silence, that is awaken by it, unleashed by it, let loose, can be a burden hard to bear, perhaps impossible. Is it not true that a lot of the things done in the solitary life is to protect us from the unbearable quality of the great yearning, so as to not be destroyed by it? To be exposed to this passion, this great yearning, is not unlike being burned. But we must guard ourselves from this yearning. Are not many things done in the solitary life to take things in bit by bit, in a manageable way, in a way that we can endure? Is this not one of the great ‘tricks’ of solitude?
But many of us feel the yearning, and once feeling it, we retract, like a snail into its shell, to never reach out again. Such is its power. Too many of us hide behind dogma, philosophy, principles, ritual, and what have you and ‘pretend’ to be in silence as a result.
Oh, but this is when the battle for silence begins . . .
Who truly has the strength to handle the great yearning, to embrace it, to ride its back? Few, I feel.
Few admit, I think, how they are burnt. Few admit its pain and toil. Like a squirrel that has been frightened into its hole we peek out warily, looking cautiously, frightened.
Yes, I see this . . . in me, and in others.
THE SENSE THAT YOU CAN’T GRASP IT
As I said above a person can ‘sense’ this presence and yearning but it is not enough. Sensing, feeling, being aware . . . these are not enough. It requires more than that. There is always this sense that I cannot grasp ‘it’, that it is beyond me, that I cannot comprehend it.
Getting familiar and accepting this feeling is critical and one of the most difficult things to do.
Over time there became a sense which I often called ‘love’. It was not love as usually spoken. ‘Love’, as I used it, is more like a calm acceptance of things without apprehension, fear, or worry. I compare it, sometimes, to a baby in its bed. It was not what I call the ‘grasping love’, which is what most people speak of when they mention love, where you grasp something, be it a person, a concept, a belief, or what have you. This seemed like the opposite, an ungrasping.
THE NEED FOR BALANCE
This fear and apprehension of the passion seems seldom mentioned . . . and seldom appreciated.
For this, in many ways, is the beginning of silence. The ‘peeking out’, like the squirrel above, is the beginning of the battle, the beginning of the embracing.
But warily we must do this, like a child first walking, we cannot take sure steps. And like a child we must learn ‘balance’ . . . balancing the passion of the great yearning with our ability to handle it. A very precarious situation, like walking a tight rope. We first reach out, then retract in (It is for this reason that perseverance is so critical for it keeps us trying . . . for without that quality the life of silence fails).
Yes, I can see that balance is one of the great acts . . . and feats . . . of the silence within.
This balance is never mastered completely. We can balance ourselves, its true, but like a tight rope walker we must ever be mindful and watchful, for fear of moving one way or the other too much and loosing balance. A little too far and you’ll fall.
ATTITUDE AND STANCE
Is it not true that one of the great acts of silence within is finding the proper attitude and proper stance? It seems to me that this is one of the great acts that is performed in the life of silence. Sitting in silence, composing oneself . . . is it not searching . . . searching for the proper attitude and stance? I can see that a lot of the acts performed in the life of silence is nothing but this. Searching within ourselves, our mood at the moment, our inclination, our state of mind, searching for something . . . a belief, a point of view, a person to give us example . . . all to find the correct attitude and stance for that moment.
For, it seems to me, that attitude and stance are everything.
They are ever changing. Once found, they change, and the search resumes . . . on and on endlessly.
BELIEF AND A SENSE OF STABILTIY
The question of belief is critical. For me, belief tends to be a dynamic force, continually changing from time to time. I’ve found that belief is not definite nor solid as it seems. What we mostly need, it seems to me, is a sense of stability, which can come from many sources, not just an organized belief. An organized belief, though, is needed for a solid foundation for things to be built upon. The benefit of a good solid belief cannot be underestimated.
THE NEED FOR ‘STEPPING STONES’
Over time I’ve found that there is a need for things to help us, what I call ‘stepping stones’. These are things to help you compose yourself. Perhaps a thought, an emotion, a person, a memory. A ‘stepping stone’ is something that helps you to reach silence and the ‘presence’. Once you find them you must discard them, as they will be a hindrance. It’s not uncommon that when I begin a time of silence I need to search for this ‘stepping stone’, a ‘something’ to start me on my way and give me direction. Sometimes this can be very time consuming.
THE CYCLE OF THE SELF
I hear people speak of the ‘peace’ of silence. Yes, there is peace, at times, but it seems there is more unbalance and disharmony. Pain, conflict, toil, work . . . these seem more the common element. The greater the pain the greater the peace will be.
I can see it . . . the wavering mind . . . going back and forth like the seasons . . . spring, summer, autumn, winter and repeated again. The cycle of the mind continues similarly: peace, calm, work, pain, and repeated again. It’s like one great wheel revolving around and around, endlessly.
Do not shurk from pain, do not hide. Accept pain, accept conflict, accept toil . . . these are the truths I’ve found. It’s easy to embrace the good, the pleasurable, the ‘peace’. But do you have the strength to handle the hard and the painful?
It seems to me that the life of silence is the embracing of the cycle of our mind. Like the sun our minds revolve, ever moving. There is a time for birth (the sunrise) and the peace (light of day) but then there is the dying (sunset), and the death that follows (dark).
It seems that in silence we must learn all 4 stages of our minds: birth, living, dying, and death. All stages must be known and mastered, not just one or two. It takes no genius to see that this is nothing but rebirth or a continual transformation of the soul. Like the days and the seasons it goes on endlessly.
It’s interesting to note that for years I thought that I feared the dying aspect of this cycle. I thought on death, dying, and its mysteries. After many years it become clear to me that what I feared was not dying but, in actuality, the BIRTH . . . and the LIVING that followed. It frightens me still. Birth and dying are alike in many ways, painful, hard, death-like. I can see, though, that they are really the same in many ways, flipsides of the same coin.
THE PRACTICE OF THE SPECTRUM OF THE SELF
The self is made up of many things, good on one end to bad on the other. I discovered that one needs to get to know as much of the spectrum as possible. This means to allow yourself to follow how you feel, regardless of what it is. This means allowing yourself to fall or having bad sides of oneself to come out. I don’t feel one should resist even bad things. One of the tendencies is to blindly restrict ourselves and control ourselves too much. This, to me, amounts to a strangulation. Allowing ourselves to be as we are is one of the ways we grow to know ourselves.
Knowing oneself is critical in the silence.
THE NEED FOR RESTRAINT
But this doesn’t mean one should do what one wants. This is where the real battle begins. Along with the attitude of allowing ourselves to be ourselves there must be another element – restraint. A person is strangled, as I said above, if they blindly restrain themselves needlessly just because religion or morality says so. Restraint is when we watch what we do and, from experience, know what side of us we don’t want to control us and restrict its action. In addition, it requires a sense of ‘what is needed’ (that is, the aspect of ourselves that is most needed at the moment) which comes from experience.
Restraint is a product of experience, knowledge of oneself, common sense, practicality, and purpose.
ALLOW YOURSELF TO BE HAPPY AND CONTENT
It is my belief that many people are unhappy and discontent because they never allow themselves to be happy or content. This may sound odd but it seems true. Happiness and contentment can happen literally in just a change in attitude. This attitude, though, isn’t just created. It takes time to develop it. The attitude of happiness and contentment is grown, much like a garden, and needs constant care.
THE NEED FOR PERSERVERENCE
Because of all the obstacles, there is a great need for perseverance. It is an ongoing never ending process. In effect, it will go on till the day you die.
THINGS TAKE TIME
It is very true that things take time. The profit of silence doesn’t show in a day. Some things, as I well know, can take years and even into decades. One must be patient and not be in a hurry.
THE NEED TO UNLEARN AND TO CEASE ‘TAKING IN’
Of all things unlearning is one of the most difficult things, I think. We spend most of our life taking in things, learning things, experiencing things. To unlearn seems almost against nature. But, as I found out, it is a part of nature. It is, after all, only the flipside to learning. By unlearning we unburden ourselves with many details of life. In some sense, it’s an abandoning or turning away from the world. In addition, by not ‘taking in’ we are more receptive to our inner self. Our mind is not cluttered and confused with the mess of information. This makes for a clear mind. Silence requires a clear mind.
THE ‘QUIETIST’ TENDENCY
It seems to me that there is a natural tendency, in the silent life, to abandon the ‘trappings’ of religion, philosophy, and belief. Naturally, this can cause a lot of problems, particularly in organized religions (I can think of the problems created by Miquel Molinos, for example). But it seems, after all, quite a natural thing to do.
When one practices silence it seems everything else pales in comparison. You can see that all the rituals, customs, and such of religion are just symbols. They are not ‘real’, necessarily, and only if a person makes them real.