Rushing Past The Silence


 It's the tendency of the restless mind to be no respecter of silence but to rush past it.  It's as if the experience of silence is some kind of menace or threat. 

 And so the restless, tense, coiled up human being races past any possible experiences of silence. Inwardly clogged, he keeps himself 'on the move', 'up and doing,' 'going places' and 'doing things.' Rarely present, ever busy.  Rarely 'here now.' No friend of silence. 

 Indeed, an especially agitated mind may find any possible moments of silence almost unbearable. A close-up encounter with the inner chaos that stands in the way of silence may be one of his greatest fears. 

 So he constantly covers over and smothers any silences with frenetic activity. Rarely present. Rarely listening. Rarely resting in silence.

 Such a restless mind reveals itself by its tendency to be quick to speak and quick to move. What's happening within manifests without. For there is an intimate relationship between inner and outer. 

 It appears that in almost any social context there's sure to be someone present who will 'jump in there' like a human bulldozer with what he wants to say, without having listened carefully to what others were saying. He blurts out something that bears no detectable relationship to what had been building up. 

 Or a jokester appears on the scene to ensure that the conversation has no chance of turning into a true encounter. 

 Instead of respecting and listening for silence, the strong tendency of twitchy beings is to leap past silence into the unreflective and sometimes mindless sharing of trivial information, the telling of dull or dirty jokes, or of endless arguments that lead nowhere. 

 Not a few conversations are all about 'jabbering, joking or arguing.'    What's missing is any respect for the power of silence to alter the quality and depth of our encounters.  

 Any possible moment of informing silence is quickly smothered by small talkersbig talkers, noisy talkers, argumentative talkers, or persons given over to a constant jocularity.   

 Now, of course, any of us can easily fall into a mindless jabbering on about nothing. I, too, can identify with someone who said: 'There was a moment of silence. I guess I thought it was my moment. My turn. So I began to talk and then part way through became aware that I wasn't saying anything. I didn't even know why I was talking. I didn't even know what I was saying.'  Unconsciously, he had skipped past the silence into talkativeness. 

 Typically, what one says and does arises from an inner restlessness or agitation of some kind. Which is why we may feel jolted or startled by the speaking and movements of inwardly misaligned creatures. Some beings, without saying anything at all, create uneasiness in those around them merely by by striding by.  

 Speaking and movements, on the other hand, that arise from a certain fullness of being, can be truly inspiring. It was said, for example, about the saintly Martin Lings, that when he walked into a room everyone would become quiet in response. Merely by appearing, people would stop whatever they were doing. 

 I have never forgotten when a Yoga student of mine visited an Ashram for the first time and called me to exclaim: "You must see the way she (the meditation master) walks. She doesn't walk. She glides."  

 I chose to write this article in a cafe where the servers were remarkably quiet and present. In response to the slighest gesture on my part, the server would graciously move towards me, asking me if I needed something. 

 When I got up to leave, the entire staff with one accord waved goodbye and wished me well! Their hospitality was astonishing!  These folk, well practiced at being present, were totally in sync with each other and with those they served! Their way of serving was a symphonic performance. (I believe I've been 'hanging out' in the wrong cafes.)    

 The priority of the cafe staff was to listen and to be attentive. And then, having done that, they moved as one to serve their guests.

 In a similar way, says Gail Needleman, a music teacher: "When you have a group of people together" who are learning a new piece of music, there tends to be that first tendency to get kind of sing-songie', that is, the singing that first breaks out is all over the place, lacking any harmony or coherence.

 That first tendency to jump in there without sufficient attentiveness has to be confronted.

 Gail therefore instructs her music groups that "if someone jumps in too early more than once that she must now wait." She is teaching that "anybody who has a tendency to rush the moment of silence between the verses must learn to see that and to hold back."  

 Her concern is that "the group as a whole must try to find that moment when the silence ends and then to come in together." (Gail Needleman Interview, Music Is Something You Do, by Richard Whittaker, April 16, 2012)   

 This art of 'holding back,' waiting for the right moment, is an art well worth learning and practicing. It's the art to be ever listening for just the right moment to chime in and perhaps not to say (or sing) anything at all, if it's not going to elevate the proceedings. 

 It's the art of learning to respect silence, to enter it fully and then learning to speak and move from the fullness of silence. Hence the need for a daily meditation practice.

 Not a few of us begin a meditation practice feeling that we're getting nowhere with it: As Elizabeth Grimberge said: "I thought I would try to meditate. I got some books that told me what to do. I found a blank wall deep in a closet that muffled the street sounds, set the clock for ten minutes, assumed the posture diagrammed in the book, composed myself and proceeded to count the breath.

  "One. I wonder how much time has passed?  The directions said to start over when I got distracted." 

     One.  "What's that noise?" 

      One.  "I wonder if a minute has gone by?" 

        One. "Was that the alarm?" 

          One.  "How am I going to stand this for ten minutes?" 

            One.  "This is insane."  

              One.  "My head feels like it's going to burst."

                 One.  "My whole body aches with the desire to move." 

                   One.  "Isn't it close to ten minutes yet?" 


 "The experience was sheer torture. During that entire fall. I never made it to the ten-minute mark. Clearly, I was not cut out for meditation. I gave up."  (Elizabeth Grimbergen, Darshan p. 5)

 However, that was not the end of her meditation story. Elizabeth continued to chant and meditate with other meditators (with the 'right' people in the 'right' atmosphere!) and then, as she says, "remarkably, meditation was happening without any effort or training on my part!" It was spontaneous and natural.  

 Hers was the realization that "no amount of mental or physical effort can cause meditation to happen. Why not? Because it is not the mind that meditates. I repeat: it is not the mind that meditates.

 "In my early attempts at meditation," says Elizabeth, "I had thought that it was the mind that did the work of meditation. I failed to understand that meditation is not a type of energetic, deliberate activity that either succeeds or fails."  

"I used to sit there," she explains - "my mind clenched, and alert, ready for the invasion of thought. As a result, I had experienced the ceaseless acitivity of my mind."  

 In time, she learned to settle the mind into a "great, gentle spaciousness."  As she learned to live in that space, "feelings of tightness, urgency and anticipation" left her. "I rested in a buoyant, nurturing silence.” 

 In that silence and space, she no longer felt "driven to do, to accomplish, to solve, to predict or to figure out something." 

 There was "the incredible feeling of being wrapped in a buoyant ocean of silence." There was a sense of  "sweet spaciousness," a "grace-filled spaciousness."

 "This quietness was not the spectacular fireworks I had originally expected from meditation. Instead, it was something subtle, soft. Requiring loving attention."

 Says Swami Muktananda about it: "When the mind turns inward in meditation it becomes the light of consciousness. It is a mighty power that annihilates all pain."

 My point is to stress the value of resisting the mind's tendency to rush past silence and instead to pause and to go into it fully.  

 The breakthrough experience is of the mind relaxing into its source, which is the Light within.  When the mind is experienced as the 'light of consciousness" everything changes.  One has become aligned with a "mighty power that annihilates all pain."  


Audio:  Cusco  (I used to play this frequently in my classes at the Calgary Yoga Academy)