“Let silence take you to the core of life.”
– Jalaluddin Rumi
Today, making the rare mid-morning cup of Earl Grey tea brought back memories of years devoted to meditation. Recalling just how difficult the first six months of daily practice were; trying to sit in silence, quieting the mind.
Why was my mind so absurdly difficult to control? Like an R.E.M. dream state, miscellaneous thoughts would pop up or fade in with the slightest provocation. Self-possessed, my mind would latch on to something that happened in the past or ponder tasks that needed to get done. This failure to quiet the mind was proof enough that I may have thought I was awake when my eyes were open, but actually, I was still very much asleep.
It could be safe to say that most of us think we are awake, while going about our affairs, but are also living and functioning in a similar dream state, more or less; letting the mind drift from one thought to the next. Or, at times fixating on an issue or event mistaken as focus, concentration, or clarity of thought.
Describing silence, an impossible task, is a Zen Koan unto itself. Often, it is defined by what it is not – the absence of sound. In the case of meditation, it is the absence of secondary thought or psychological or psychic noise. It’s a state of quietude, a still mind. It is the condition of being, existing, breathing. It is unfathomable, limitless, and boundless.
The concept of a silent mind has intrigued seekers for thousands of years. In Psalm 62, of the Old Testament, we find: “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.”
Isadore Twersky, Orthodox Rabbi, and Harvard Professor states in his Introduction to the Code of Maimonides: “One must be attuned to the silences.”
The first line of the Tao De Ching: “The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao.”
The Tao is Silent and ever present. It is the infinite void. But most importantly, emptiness has potential; like an empty urn ready to be filled.
The Tao recommends: “Do Nothing, but leave nothing undone.”
This quote is one of my all time favorites! Every time it’s revisited, a deeper meaning is uncovered.
The brilliance is in the first part: “Do Nothing.” It is the silence. The quiet. The peacefulness. The release and relief from striving. It is the sureness, the certainty, the stillness of calm reserve, natural confidence and composure. It is Joseph Campbell’s “infinite moment.”
Silence is the moment that is freedom.
Intimate knowledge and the mental resources to tap into this silence give us the ability to thrive in every moment, with vibrancy and freshness. To see an event as unique and distinct, without history or prejudice, judgement or fear. To see that it is perfect with all of its various imperfections.
With this understanding, the reader can begin practicing “walking meditation” or, in other words: live each moment with consciousness. This way of mindfulness requires intelligence and attentiveness. With humility and self-awareness, it is possible.
From the 7th century, we have a poetic recount of the benefits of an attentive mind.
“Silence is the mystery of the world to come. Speech is the organ of this present world. More than all things love silence: it brings you a fruit that the tongue cannot describe. In the beginning, we have to force ourselves to be silent. But then from our very silence is born something that draws us into deeper silence. May God give you an experience of this ‘something’ that is born of silence. If you practice this, inexpressible light will dawn upon you.”
—Bishop Isaac of Nineveh, On Ascetical Life
From silence comes an indescribable and alluring feeling; bearing witness to grandeur and wonder, a dimension with a life of its own.
Silence is the quality of being.