Imagine there is a room in your house that you have forgotten all about. And imagine in this room there is a closet in which you once, long ago, placed a golden treasure. Today you feel poor, unsatisfied, wishing you had more, not remembering that you are actually quite rich because of your forgotten treasure. That golden treasure is your silence. This story is about finding your silence again.
When you were a child, you looked at the world differently. You were open to all the wonders around you; everything was new. You explored this new, beautiful world with all your senses: you tasted everything, you watched, you listened, you learned. Then the days came when you stopped learning, when you had heard it all, seen it all, and the taste of life became ordinary, expected, bland. You lost something as you grew up, as you grew older: you lost your wonder, your openness to life.
Musical geniuses, like Mozart, know that the most important part of music is not the notes, but the spaces between the notes, the silences. Japanese artists utilize these lacunae to highlight the life of their paintings. Silence provides a context in which life can occur; without silence music is just noise; without stillness life is just busyness.
One of the honorifics used for the Buddha was Shakyamuni: this was not a name, but a description – the silent sage of the Shakya clan. He excelled in silence and taught others how to find theirs. The practice and process is simple: attend to the moments between thoughts. How do we do that? We listen!
Opposites reveal: to learn about a man, observe his wife. To learn about your silence, find your voice. We all know about finding our own voice: we have been urged to do so by our favorite teachers since we were children. Finding your own voice means remembering and speaking your unique inner wisdom, born of your unique life. No one has lived your life before; no one has made your mistakes; no one has screwed up in exactly the same ways you have before; and from all these experiments in living you have developed a wisdom that is uniquely yours; yours to offer others – this is the source of your own voice. Your voice can be expressed through writing a journal, creating a blog, a painting, a poem, a dance or a song. When you have found your voice, find the pauses in your stories. What spaces do you allow? Is your voice rushed, or does it have a rhythm? Rhythms exist because of pauses.
It is important to find our own voice, it is healing and healthy, but it is equally important and valuable to find our own silence too: it is just as healing and necessary. The moment between our thoughts is as close to us as the moment between our breaths. Notice these and you have begun to notice the pauses in thought. Cultivating pauses creates silence. When we create a pause we can sink into our silence deeply; silence grows the deeper we go.
Sinking into our silence is as simple as a stone sinking in water. A rock does not try to sink to the bottom of a lake; it simply sinks, leaving the churning waves on the surface. We can sink simply by listening. When we listen, when we really listen – dropping the commentary, the judgements, the evaluations – we open to what actually is in this moment; not what we wish to be, not what we think ought to be, but what actually is. You can find your silence at any time and anywhere: try this experiment – tomorrow when you eat your first meal of the day, do so in silence. Turn off any sounds: no web surfing, no radio or T.V. Just eat your meal in silence and be open to what you experience. For this one meal, find your silence.
But, what if you are eating your meal with your partner or a friend? Initially, silence can be intimidating: when we sit with a friend and the conversation runs down, we may frantically search for something to say. That is our addiction to stimulation: let it be – cultivate the pauses in your conversations. When you sit with someone in silence there is a deeper communion occurring. When we are silent with a friend we are accepting her just as she is, and in her silence she is accepting us just as we are.
When we are truly open, beauty is all around us. It is always all around us, but we are too busy talking and thinking to notice it. When we were children, we noticed it. It is still available today whenever we drop expectations, judgements and attend in stillness
Silence is not the absence of sounds – silence is simply listening. Take a walk in the woods over the next week and listen: in winter the woods are still but there is life all around. In the silent stillness you will hear the voices of birds, the sound of your own footsteps, the wind’s rustle, but since you are attending to all this in your own silence, the voice of the forest will not disturb you. You will split open: a quiet walk is quiet because your mind is quiet, not because of a lack of exterior noise.
Listen: this is the quickest way to find your silence. Silence is a state of inner stillness; an openness to the world without and the world within; a non-reactivity to what you hear: non-judgement and non-attachment.
Samuel Johnson once noted that people do not need to be taught or educated, they simply need to be reminded. You do not need to be taught how to find your silence; you only need to be reminded that your treasure exists, it is there where you put it long ago; go find it again and reclaim your treasure: listen – find your silence and enjoy the richness of your life.
(Back to Newsletter #14)