searching for silence

In the temple, which sits overlooking the lake,the light streams in from all the windows and there is a sense of deep quiet. We chant OM , our voices blend, come in and out of sound to a place where the note begins to vibrate in the atmosphere. All of us in the temple become part of the note. Then, as if we make a collective inaudible decision, we know it is time for the chanting to end. The OM fades and there is silence. In the temple, we have created a silent space that is very rare.

I recently read about a scientist who travels around the world searching for silent spaces. He has found that there is very little natural silence left on our planet. Each year the encroachment of mechanical noise comes much closer. A noisy world is at our doorstep. A noisy world is also in our mind.

Silence can be a beautiful and peaceful thing, but for many people trying to survive in the world of noise, silence becomes threatening. Often there is a sense that there is something lurking just below the surface in our minds that we don't want to look at. Or we wonder what people are thinking about us if they are silent. We are looking for rejection or acceptance from others and talk is the usual way we get it. There is usually a reason we set up the barrier of noise – often silence has been used as a punishment, maybe someone was angry or upset, or silence is used in judgement, if someone didn't like us.

It is interesting what will arise in silence. The outside noises may fade, the mind may quieten down, but the issues that need sorting out in the mind rise to the surface. There are certain things the mind holds onto: criticisms and limiting key sentences that hypnotize people into thinking that they will never amount to much, they don't fit in, they will be hurt or rejected, they are dumb, they are different from everyone else. Criticism and worries become immediate in the silence, so you want the silence to be filled. Immediately. Silence is the first place you have to pass through to find out what is happening in your mind.

Silence allows you to watch your mind and become aware of the thoughts that you may be acting on unconsciously. When you see the thoughts, you can make a conscious choice to act on the thought or change your mind, instead of going along with the noise. I have seen people who don't want to look at themselves keep going until something happens that makes them stop a sickness or an accident – but it gives them that reflective, quiet space where they can face what is difficult in their mind. We each have a unique purpose to fulfill in this life and inklings can come in those quiet moments.

I remember the first time I chanted alone in the room here at the ashram. I could feel the history of many people who had practised in this same way in this same place. It became unusually quiet. As I walked out into the sunlight, the silence stayed with me. A butterfly landed on my shoulder and was very still. That was the first time I realized I could find my own potential in silent spaces.

There was the feeling of limitlessness. I became aware of the preciousness of life, what life had offered me in the past and what is possible in the future. My attitude could change. The key sentences can be positive, I can generate gratitude, I can keep watching my mind, I can find a quiet space each day to reflect. When I started to look for those silent times in the day, they started to appear. The small still voice is available and prepared to give you what you need to know about yourself and what you already know. The teachings reside in silence.

Silence has a profound quality that words often can't convey. There is a story I like of Rama and his teacher Vasistha. Rama asks Vasistha a question but he replies in silence. "I ask but you do not answer", says Rama. Vasistha responds, "It is not because I could not answer that I was quiet, but because silence was the answer to that question."

I find as I grow to trust that silent state of mind I can use it to listen and be in difficult situations. In the silence, sequences of activity begin to unfold, the answers come.

The mystery of silence intrigues me. It seems we create silence but it also seems silence is waiting for us to enter. We have many ways to enter by bringing it into the mind through stillness, breath, relaxation, sacred sounds, acknowledging the power of gratitude and appreciation,being with like-minded people or being alone. There is something so powerful about how the mind and the body respond to the depth and space of silence. We should start searching for silence.
Swami Radhananda is president and spiritual director of Yasodhara Ashram in British Columbia, Canada.

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