I’ve flirted with silence for a few years now. My first experience was 4 days in a cabin with no electricity and several mice on an island that I was dropped off at. There was no getaway. I was committed. Since then I’ve varied between 4-10 days at different locations from my own home to a friend’s cabin and my most recent, a gorgeous resort hotel in Thailand. Going into silence the most common question I get asked is, “What do you do all day?!” followed by, “Oh God, I would go crazy.” My last 10 day retreat my friend said ghastly, “You know you don’t HAVE to do all ten days”, as if I was about to do something self-harming or potentially dangerous like climb mount Everest.
My experimentation with Yogic practices have naturally progressed to a point where I feel these silent retreats are essential for my self-growth. Yoga by definition in the Yoga Sutras of Maharishi Patanjali is, “Yogas chitta vritti nirodhah” which means, “restraining the modifications (fluctuations) of the mind is yoga”. Every thought, feeling, memory, or sensory experience causes a modification, or ripple in the mind. Imagine you are looking into glass calm water. You would see your reflection so clearly. However if every thought, sense, memory, or feeling that was happening in your mind were to be causing ripples, we would never see ourselves clearly. Our true self is just waiting to be discovered, yet our mind is so disturbed we can’t see it properly. We feel the distorted picture is us, we think, “this is me”, yet the whole time it is just an illusion. As we slowly develop more self awareness we begin to calm the waters more and more. These little breakthroughs reveal so much about the truth of our nature, and can profoundly change the way we relate with ourselves, others and the world around us.
The Importance of Slowing Down
The importance of slowing down is essential in developing awareness. As we know from the definition of Yoga above, the real Yoga practice happens in the mind. Personally I tend to fall into the hyperactive, productivity-centred mentality our world is trapped in. This mentality of productivity = value = self-worth is so driven into the majority of us. For me slowing down is necessary to counter this aspect of my mind. In the process of slowing down outwardly (the way we walk, talk, eat and also by cutting back on all stimulants diet and environmentally based) we can start to sense ourselves more inwardly. When I take time to be in silence and watch the mental chatter, it’s easy to see that it’s the mind (desires, expectations, and ego) which pulls us from the eternal well of peace within. This affects the way we operate in our day to day life, and is what drains our energy. When we connect more to that place of peace within, we begin to act/think/behave more and more from that place of effortless and ease. When I consciously slow down I experience almost immediate changes in my attitude and outlook, I experience better quality of sleep, increased digestion, less food requirement, stabilized blood pressure, less aches and pains etc.
How Can We Slow Down?
Start by making time to practice mindfulness. In whatever activity you choose, do it with complete attention and awareness. Be disciplined in doing this one awareness based activity every day. For me it begins with my Yoga Practice, which has evolved from movement based practices to more breath work and meditation. In the time I set aside each day to do my practice, I try my best to focus my attention and awareness inward (on my breath, physical sensation, single pointed focus). Doing this daily creates a healthy habit of recognizing that stillness is vital. Our usual outward focused mind starts to register that going inwards and becoming more and more still feels good and natural. It starts to seep out into our daily life and mindfulness becomes more of a 24/7 practice then just what we do on our mats or elsewhere.
“Doing nothing” has become the most important part of my day. It’s my time to come back to my true self, tap into my infinite potential, recharge my energy and serves as a reminder that no matter what situation of circumstance I face in the outside world, is not match for my inner state of peace. It’s given me so much empowerment, and I hope through these teachings we all find our way to peace within.