Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Practice of Silence

Swami Kriyananda once told a story about the great South Indian saint Sadasiva Brahmendra, a brilliant and gifted student in his youth.  One day, after he bested older scholars in debate and perhaps displayed a bit of pride, his guru admonished him, “When will you learn to hold your tongue?”  “Instantly Master, with your grace.”  From that moment, he never spoke again. 

Within the first few years of being introduced to the teachings of yoga, circumstances allowed me an opportunity to take up the traditional practice of silence, once for two months and another time for one. I found the experience highly worthwhile and recommend it to anyone who wishes to give it a try. 

“Holding one’s tongue” gives us a surprisingly strong boost of physical and mental energy, and in the process, makes us reflect upon how much time and energy is wasted in idle conversation.  Beyond an increase in vitality came a deeper stilling of my mind. Restlessness was gradually replaced by a calm detachment from the daily trivia with which I was often occupied.  Soon, I began to perceive as chatter what I had previously thought of as vitally important.  Silence calmed the habitual impulse to “add my two cents” or “have the last word”.  My desire to interject opinions into others’ conversations relaxed and quickly I came to understand why some saints embraced silence so strongly. 

Over the years, I’ve learned an even deeper lesson about silence best expressed by Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, “The practice of silence is not the restraining of speech but the overcoming of our need to be heard.” Look within and see if this isn’t so and ask yourself, “From where comes this ‘need’? Why is it so important that I be heard?” When we overcome this habit, we allow a soothing, detached contentment to descend upon us.  From contentment comes bliss. 

What is meditation if not the “art of listening,” the calming of mental “noise” blocking more subtle perceptions.  Meditation helps us overcome our tendency to reach outside of ourselves for fulfillment.  We find our “needs” completely satisfied when we dive into the silent awareness of God’s presence within.