The Real value of Silence
- “In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness. Our life is a long and arduous quest after Truth.” Mahatma Gandhi.
One thing we hear in all spiritual traditions is the call to know yourself. Shakespeare wrote, “To thine own self be true.” Over the doorway into the ancient oracle of Delphi in Greece are carved the words “Know Thyself”.
And all traditions are also in agreement in that silence is the high road to self knowledge or the Truth.
Silence is not valued in our modern culture. In fact, silence is treated with suspicion if not disdain.
Anyone seeking silence is seen as odd or worse.
No where in modern society is silence encouraged. Silence is seen as a waste of time and valueless.
Television is on everwhere we go. Listening to music on earphones has become preferable to hearing the sounds around you, even the less intrusive sound of nature.
I met a family walking in the woods recently. The birds were singing but the two boys, aged about eight and ten, heard none of it. They were lost in ipod land as they ran along in front of their parents.
We cannot be without our mobile phones for half a day. Society has become a place where we keep ourselves constantly occupied with one activity or another. Anything but silence, is the message.
We have become accustomed to living at a hectic pace. At least we think we have, because nobody is suggesting there is anything wrong with this pace. The notion of creating some space for ourselves in the midst of such a fast paced life has not struck most of us and even those of us who feel like we might like some silence and space do not know how we can achieve it.
Where does one go to find space and silence? There are not many opportunities available.
Getting away from it all is a phrase we sometimes hear. But how to get away from it all is not so easy.
Unless you live alone it is unlikely that you can get away from the sound to television or radio.
Not many of us feel comfortable going on holidays alone and even if we do holidays are usually just another occasion of activity and socialisation.
There are no places where we can go, have our basics met and just be for a few days, unless we find a retreat which offers this option.
Retreats, I have found in Ireland are generally expensive and tend to specialise in one area on another. There are yoga or healing or walking retreats and then there are retreats offered by various religious orders, with their associated rituals and ceremonies. And, I have not found any that are free or minimally priced.
There are two kinds of silence, external silence and internal silence. External silence facilitates the arising of internal silence and it is in internal silence that self knowledge grows.
This is why external silence is so valuable on the spiritual path. It is a way of stopping or reducing the external stimuli so that our true nature can begin to show itself.
In the past those interested in coming to know their true nature, or finding God, or becoming enlightened, (it matters not what way we describe the mystery) entered monasteries or contemplative orders. Monasteries knew the value of silence which is why they established themselves as sanctuaries of silence.
It was thought that full time silence was necessary in order to bring this inner transformation to fruition in a person. For the past century, since the teachings of George Gurdjieff have become known in the West, it has become apparent that full time silence is not necessary.
Nevertheless, some silence is necessary.
It is an important step on the path of spiritual development to recognise the value of silence and to start to make space in your life for it.
There are many small ways in which you can begin to do this. Leave the radio off when you are driving or around the house. Turn the television off when you are not actively watching it or when you are alone in the television room.
Spend time in nature where a certain type of silence is usually to be found.
While there are lots of sounds in nature they usually do not impinge on the mind in the same way that television and talk do. In fact, consciously listening to water flowing in a river or the sound of the wind blowing in the trees or watching waves lapping on the shore have the effect of calming the mind.
What is important is to become aware of how the different sounds and atmospheres effect you.
Taking note of how you are affected by different situations is a good beginning to getting to know yourself. Silence is a situation where external stimuli have been stopped or at least quelled for a time. In the silence what is inside you bubbles up and comes to your attention.
What is inside you is what drives your feelings and behaviours and reactions. Most people try to suppress what is inside because it usually contains the hurts of the past. The problem is that as long as these hurts are suppressed they continue to cause you pain in the form of fear, or anxiety or insecurity and so on.
Letting what is within you bubble up, come to your attention and accepting it is the path out of suffering. This is why silence is so beneficial.
Silence is the way to inner peace but it takes courage and determination to get out of your suffering.
Everyone can bring their mental anxiety to an end but they must be willing to look within to see what thoughts and beliefs are driving them.
While it is great to start to find opportunities for silence in daily life, it is really valuable to find opportunities to spend a few days in silence when possible. This is not easily done in our society.
I have on occasion asked friends who were going away to use their house for a few days of silence. It is necessary to get away from your own home. I have used a mobile home during off season for a few days. Look around your acquaintances and opportunities will present themselves once you recognise the value of silence in your life.
For some people the very thought of spending time in silence is unattractive. This is because they have not tasted the peace and contentment found in silence.
I reccommend to everyone to find opportunities for silence in your daily life, even for short periods and to try to find opportunities for longer spells of silence, at least once each year.
Silence is the high road to spiritual development and inner peace.