To mark the Winter Solstice, my wife and I attended a “silent” nighttime group pilgrimage through a large local forest garden. As a guide led several hundred of us on a slow stroll in the dark, I couldn’t help but chuckle at how many people were unable to stop themselves from talking when we were asked not to. While no words passed my lips, there was no shortage of them in my mind. As I journeyed, in addition to being gifted with some moments of quiet, it occurred to me silence is incredibly important.
Silence brings us face-to-face with our inner junk (which helps us move past it), connects us to our True Self, and attunes us to the unifying and harmonious presence I think is the Spirit of God, big Love, and the interconnectedness of all things. The results of these encounters are a felt wholeness, a deep peace, and an encompassing joy.
I teach yoga, wherein we spend a good period of time breathing mindfully while moving, energizing, and stretching ourselves, in part, to prepare us for 5-10 minutes of silent rest in savasana at the end of our practice. Recently, while lying in this restorative posture, my mind was extra “chatty”. In doing my best to observe my thoughts and let them float by like clouds in the sky, instead of dwelling on and getting stressed by them, I had an aha moment. When my mind wanders it nearly always goes to a negative place, either frustrations from the past or worries for the future.
I had a similar experience on our solstice stroll at Bloedel Reserve, in that when my brain took me out of the magic of feeling and seeing nature’s harmonious nighttime hush, it was largely to unhelpful ruminations about what’s gone or stresses for what’s to come. I’d describe the transformative beauty of this aspect of my journey in silence like this:
When we venture into silence it’s like taking our brains to therapy, in that when our mind doesn’t have anything to focus on, its junk and baggage is brought to the surface. Silence lays our brains bare, thus revealing all its warts.
While our mental baggage is often something for us to work through and figure out, it is NOT part of our True Selves. It’s more like mud covering our inner light, which we need to wash away. Being bullied in middle school, going through my parents’ divorce, aving two divorces of my own, losing a child to a miscarriage, and nearly dying and losing my job from a freak hiking accident leads me to struggle with insecurity and control. I share this because, in addition to therapy, silence is a key way to heal these wounds.
You see, while we have thoughts, you and I are NOT our thoughts. The more we’re able to quiet our mental chatter, the more in touch with our True Self, and the Spirit that created and animates us all, we become. We truly think less to BE more, because in stillness we tap into a sense of wholeness, an unwavering inner peace, and endless oceans of joy. The question is how do we get to this truly magical space?
As we walked through the garden that night and my mind decided to go a bit crazy, two practices helped guide me back to calm and connection: Breathing and Feeling. To paraphrase and expand on an idea from MC Yogi, making our breath louder than our thoughts works wonders for our souls, as it infuses us with Big Bliss. While there are many ways to do this, here are a few I find helpful:
A deep breath (or more) and a sigh or silly noise
Feeling my breath move inside me
Feeling as though I’m breathing through my ears, fingers, skin, etc.
Combining breath with a mantra (like “Just … be”)
Related to breathing is feeling, which is especially affective in nature. This is “simply” paying extra attention to your senses. The more we “hear” the messages from our bodies, the more present we are in the moment, which also radically connects us with ourselves, others, God, and the Big Love flowing between and within us all. In the forest I felt the air on my skin, noticing its depth, temperature, changes, and more. Paying extra attention to colors, shades, expressions, and movements with our eyes has a similar result. As does listening to sounds we’d otherwise ignore.
While silence can be scary or uncomfortable, I think it’s super important. It’s the path to deeper connection with the Divine, others, nature, and our selves, and the result is a miraculous wholeness and harmony beyond words. What are your thoughts and experiences?
Grace and peace,