Those who practice meditation soon learn that silence is much greater than not speaking words or even the absence of sound. What is silence, then? From the spiritual perspective, silence is empty of words, sound, or image but full of presence. Silence emanates from and as the existence of God or Absolute Reality within us. Once our attention and awareness move beyond the spoken word and then beyond the subtle inner “noise” of sensation, thought, and feeling, it comes to rest in the center of our being, our essential Self. It is there that we discover true silence. Through the doorway of silence, we gain access to the higher wisdom of the divine Self and the inner resources to live a truly fulfilling life.
The Wonderful Efficacy of Silence
The cultivation of silence helps us discover how to abide in the stillness of our essential Self and take refuge in the Self during activity. It is a way we train ourselves, just like we do in meditation, to participate in life with a quieter mind. We withdraw our attention from being so outwardly directed and involved and focus on our subtle energy, our inner experience of the Self. And then, we become more skillful in what we want to say and how we interact. We learn that we can draw from the soul—the source of wisdom within us—the creative power and energy that streams forth from the wholeness of our being.
Let’s look at how the cultivation of silence supports us in our quest for truth and overall well-being.
Silence as a Yoga Practice
The cultivation of silence is called mauna in Sanskrit. We can see it as a yoga practice, a skill we can develop. It is the ability to manage the citta, the mental field. Learning how to manage the mind is one of the fundamental things we do when we engage in yoga practices such as meditation, contemplation, and application of lifestyle guidelines. Through study, we learn about the mind, and then we apply methods to quiet the mental field to clarify our awareness and become more skillful with our discernment. We discover how to be appropriately responsive rather than unconsciously reactive. Therefore, yoga is a skill to manage the mind.
Yoga is also samadhi. It is the experience of conscious Oneness. For that, we cultivate the inward flowing of our attention and awareness. We notice that there are two fundamental or primary directions for the flow of attention and awareness. The mind and attention can flow inward towards our silent and still essence of being, and it can flow outward towards sensory experience or thought activity. Silence helps us see this distinction more clearly. Usually, we are so involved in the outflowing tendency of the mind we tend not to notice what is going on in subtle layers of the mental field. But when we become quiet, stop talking, and become inwardly focused, we can flow attention more deeply within, observe the mental field, and through steady concentration, soar beyond it in superconsciousness or samadhi.
Yoga is also balance or equanimity. It is even-mindedness —skill in action. Silence helps us become and stay balanced as we discern what is useful and what is not and make course corrections accordingly. With inner quiet and equipoise, we become conscious of what we are thinking and our motivations. We are aware of the intentions of our speech before we speak. With the practice of mauna, or silence, we become more sensitive to our inclinations and more aware of the motivations of others. Being mindful of what we say before we say it results in more stability with less cleanup to do.
Yoga is wisdom. The activity of speaking and engaging in discursive thought can cloud discernment. Silence clarifies the mental field. When we stop talking and practice exercises to reduce inner chatter, the mental field is purified, and discernment becomes keener. Our intuition awakens. As we tune into our true Self, we gain the visibility to dispassionately view the mind and its tendency to cling to thoughts, experiences, and emotions. We strengthen our ability to be the witness, free from identifying with the mental field and its contents. Therefore, we become more detached in a healthy way, like sitting by a stream and watching it flow. We can watch the stream of the mind without getting involved in it.
A Fear of Silence
Sometimes we fear silence. It is like fearing meditation. The deep root of this fear is fear of the unknown. Human beings often experience some anxiety in the face of the unknown. In this case, our ego-based sense of self is generally “known” to us. What is beyond egoic identity is unknown to us until the experience of spiritual awakening. We fear that unknown identity and the potential “disappearance” of the known self. What if I am not who I think I am? That is the fundamental question! The yogis tell us that beyond our clinging to the false self is the direct experience of our true Self. With that experience comes freedom and joy.
There is also sometimes a fear that if we stop and open ourselves to what we are really thinking or feeling deep down, this will cause us to realize some underlying issues that we may not be ready to confront. Another version of this is a fear of inner wisdom arising that we may not want to follow.
If you feel that little bit of trepidation about getting quiet and noticing feelings, know that what you are as a spiritual being is superior to any emotions, thoughts, or circumstances. You can simply be the witness to what is arising. The benefit of that is that when we can remain in the witness stage without getting involved, without getting all tangled up, without following it, trying to figure it out or solve it, things have a way of loosening up. It is essential to understand that our thoughts, feelings, and circumstances are all subject to change. And we are the Witness; we are the Seer. We can encourage ourselves by knowing that we have the strength, fortitude, and consciousness to observe without getting involved with the contents of the mind. Take heart, be courageous, and be willing to see clearly. Awakened living becomes possible when we stop trying to hide from ourselves.
Benefits of Silence
The yogis teach that generally, people are in an ordinary state of consciousness most of the time, which they say is akin to having our eyes open while we sleepwalk through life. When we identify with the contents of the mind, we cannot be fully awake to the truth of our being. When we take time for silence and cultivate meditative practices, we begin to wake up and free ourselves from that sleepwalking state where we are caught up in our thoughts.
Silence Enhances Our Energy
Like meditation, the cultivation and practice of silence conserves and enhances prana or vital force. You know this if you have been on a silent retreat or already practice days of silence. It’s astounding how much energy it takes to talk! As soon as we stop talking so much, prana is enhanced. Prana is connected to the breath. It takes a lot of breath to talk—a lot of energy to form words, put them out there, and be engaged in conversation. You will find your energy renewed and enhanced through your practice of silence.
Silence Helps Us to Slow Down
Further, being silent helps us slow down. We are all engaged in so many conversations every day with our smartphones, television, other people, or reading. We move through time and space with these conversations, whether speaking or just listening or even thinking through conversations in our head. When we practice silence, we turn off those streams of conversation. We are not getting on our computer; we are not checking our phone; we are not engaging in conversations with humans or pets. We even refrain from conversing with ourselves in our mind. We withdraw our attention again and again into stillness.
Silence Helps Our Discernment
Lastly, with the soul power of observation, silence can help us unlock and release old patterns and habits that are not useful. We observe ourselves and pay attention to why we want to say something coming up in our mind. We might notice that we do not need to say that. In those situations, we can inquire: Where is it coming from? Is it useful? Sometimes it is not. We are then self-empowered to make a new choice, create a new pattern or habit, transform our character and change our life while we are at it.
Be willing to sit in the silence and wait upon the direct perception of the higher Self. Once released from identification with the body, mind, and emotions, soar in the freedom of Spirit and experience new vistas of possibility opening before you.