Cultivating Silence



"A person should contemplate the workings of the universe with reverence and introspection. In this way expression is given to the effects of these laws upon his own person. This is the source of a hidden power."
I Ching

What is the sound of no sound?

Civilization is noisy. In the city, sound bombards our ears. We have automobile noises, barking  dogs, hammers pounding, music throbbing, and people making the many sounds that people make. All the noise can be irritating. It can interfere with concentration and impede communication. But we adapt to it. After a while, the people living near the airport no longer hear the airplanes taking off. The loudness becomes background and it isn’t noticeable.

The mind is constantly moving attention from foreground to background and back. The stimulus in the foreground gets our attention. The loud noise becomes the foreground as it catches our focus. As we get used to hearing the noise, it moves into the background of our consciousness. We are no longer aware of it. If the pattern of sound should change, however, it catches our attention and moves back into awareness.

Some music moves quickly into the background. Music that matches the rhythms of our body and environment will become background quickly. Jarring, loud, fast music will hold our attention longer. This is why some otherwise unappealing music can be quite compelling. It catches our attention and holds it. While our attention is held by the sound it won’t be somewhere else. If the neighborhood of our mind is particularly unpleasant, music that takes us away from there can become addictive.

Speaking of addictive sense experiences, the sounds and sights of video poker and computer games are designed to draw us into the experience. They can  blot out the rest of the world from awareness and provoke a stimulated state in which we truly become wired. The human being becomes a peripheral device of the machine. The ever changing patterns of color and sound vibrate our nervous system. We fire our synapses at the rate established by the source of the stimulus, and as our cognition is fully engaged in beating the game, we lose ourselves, forget our troubles, and may experience elation. It is an elation, however, born of separation from our real world. We are swept up and carried away. We are not here in our being.

If we want to be in touch with our lives, attuned to our true nature, we must cultivate a certain amount of silence. Historically, some monks and other ascetics have taken vows of silence in order to be closer to the source of all that is. To hear the murmurs of the spirit one needs to keep quiet, at least some of the time. Peaceful silence allows us to be mindful of our inner world. We can focus on our thoughts and feelings. Or we can go deeper to the state beyond thought and feeling where we may find true peace and true joy.

A quiet mind enables us to vibrate at a subtler frequency. Like a radio telescope picking up faint signals from distant galaxies, we become instruments connecting with a bigger cosmos. We become more attuned to intuition. We become more aware of synchronicity and the workings of providence and serendipity in our lives. In silence we may find peace and a deeper sense of our place in the scheme of things.

Practice:

Take some time to listen to your environment. Note the sounds you can hear now. What sounds draw your attention? What sounds had moved into the background so that you hadn’t been noticing them? As you notice them, they move into the foreground of your awareness. For a few moments, just let your awareness follow the sounds that reach you.

Notice any emotions that arise in you with the sounds. Do you, for instance, feel annoyed at the sounds that draw your attention? Or do they perhaps give you a feeling of comfort?

Practice letting the sounds just wash over you and through you. Let go of the emotions that the sounds generate. Instead of responding to them, just receive the sounds as the vibrations in air that they are. Let go of interpretation. Let go of your projection of emotion. Just be in your awareness of sound.

After a while, turn your attention to the sounds inside your body. Stretch a little and get yourself into a comfortable position. Do you hear the readjustment of your connective tissues as you move?

Notice the sound of your breath. Just listen to your breathing for a little while.

What sounds do you hear in your head? Can you perhaps hear blood pulsing? Can you feel it? Can you hear or feel your heart beating? Digestive sounds? What else?

If it is very quiet and you are quite still, you may hear the subtle sound of air vibrating in the absence of sound waves.

Take your time. Sit in the silence that is beyond sound and beyond no sound.

OM


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