THE SOUND OF SILENCE
I always thought that I was drawn to Buddhism and Quakerism because they were non-dogmatic routes to personal enlightenment. They speak to my own journey, by elucidating and honouring the individual’s inner path.
This morning I suddenly realised why else they draw me – they both offer silence as both ministry and communion. Silence for me is a balm and a discipline. It does not come easily. I have a chattering mind and mouth, but silence is where I am happiest. And with three young children it is a commodity as rare as gold in my life.
I remember when I did a ten day silent meditation retreat in Japan, everyone who knew me thought I would struggle with not being able to talk for ten days. The opposite was true, I ran to the toilet and sobbed my heart out when the silence came to an end and I had to speak again.
Meditation per se is not something I have space for in my life right now. And I feel the lack of it. And so I take opportunities throughout the day to try to reconnect to silence and mindfulness, that I want to share with you.
I snatch moments, when going to sleep, when awake in the middle of the night to find the spaces between thoughts and lengthen them. I detach myself from my chattering “monkey mind” and just listen, in loving amusement to it chattering on about the most absurd things. And then gently say to myself, “shhhh!” And listen to the silence in my mind and out in the world.
When the world is overwhelming I follow Pam England’s (author of Birthing for Within) advice and “breathe, feel the earth under my feet and do nothing extra.”
Bringing ourselves back to our breath is the simplest and most powerful thing we can do. Often when I see loved ones, including myself, in a state of deep stress, I quietly say “remember to breathe!” When we are tense and stressed we hold our breaths, tensing our bodies and dance to the mad tune of the ego-mind.
A practice we have developed in our house is lighting candles at moments where calm and focus need to be restored: tantrum time, hyper time just before bed time, meal times… They change the atmosphere instantly, connecting us to a softer, gentler energy, turning off the electricity inside and out. They inspire a sense of calm and wonder in us all. And once they have worked their magic we take a deep breath and blow them out, watching the smoke spiralling up. Candles work wonders for little and big children alike! We use them in our women’s circles (and here) for mother blessings, celebrations, meditations, memorials…
And the mindfulness bell, a small brass singing bowl (pictured above) is another way we bring ourselves back to mindful awareness. We use it to start our women’s group meetings, with the children as silent “listening” practice. The idea behind it is to strike the bowl and then listen as the sound lessens and lessens into silence, bringing us back into ourselves, attuning our inner-listening ears. My wonderful American family use the mindfulness bell at every family meal time, as a non-denominational way of saying a silent grace, and bringing themselves to mindful appreciation of the food they are about to eat and the loved ones with whom they are sharing it.
Thich Naht Hanh takes this one stage further, in a wise way of using the noises of the modern world for our benefit, rather than cursing it. He suggests that we use each bell and alarm and phone ring as a call to awakening. When the phone rings: Stop, breathe in mindfully and then respond to it mindfully, staying aware of your breath.
What are your mindfulness practices? How do you contact silence?
Please do share below …