The Power of Silence and Subtlety
It has been a while since my first post. There have been many changes in the last couple months. I began a new job; I am moving into a new apartment; I am putting together a proposal for a book and a radio show; a friend passed away; I went on my first blind date; my gym membership expired; sessions with my favorite therapist came to an end; and I started writing this blog.
I'm sure I'm missing a few things and I'm sure you have all had times that feel overwhelming. The technique I am writing about today is probably the greatest contributor to my feeling somewhat centered when life feels like a roller coaster. Silence is the most general technique and the most important.
We are surrounded by people, places and things that create a noisy, continuous, bright, often over baring environment. If we don't take the time to separate ourselves from all of it, we end up feeling nervous, anxious, tired, tense, restricted, and confused.
When we enter this time-space reality, we are given a body. Our body is with us from the moment we are born till the moment we die. We can choose to get to know this body in every way or avoid that challenge. If we choose to avoid getting to know our bodies, they most likely take over at some point and force us to pay attention through sickness and pain. I like to think of my body as a giant receiver and processor of information. It receives light, sound, smell, taste, sensation and vibrations. It also receives energy from our surrounding environment at any given point in time.
When we are continually exposed to extreme sensations, it is challenging to notice the subtle ones, but this is where our power lies -- in subtlety. Traffic and subways are loud. Our computers and phones are bright and make constant noise. Our city lights are always on, even at night. Alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine, salt, sugar, 40-hour work weeks, running. All these things expose our bodies to extreme sensation. During this continual exposure, by the time we notice a pain, physically or emotionally, it has already gotten out of hand. We endure one thing after another until so much momentum surrounds us that we feel powerless and unsure of how to soothe ourselves.
This is when the power of silence and subtlety is important. When we build a relationship with subtlety through silence and observation, we become more deeply aware of the different aspects at play in any given moment. We cultivate a heightened awareness of life and are able to take control of a situation before it takes control of us and we can let go of tension before it feels unbearable.
It can feel scary at first to sit in silence but silence is our friend. It gives us space to spend quality time with ourselves. If we don't take this time to grow love, appreciation and gentleness for ourselves, life does not feel enjoyable, fascinating, interesting or stimulating. Those feelings emerge when we develop a genuine likeness for ourselves that stems from the understanding that each of us is special and has something special and unique to offer. We were given our specific bodies to care for and to love. Sometimes the environment and people we grow up around do not show us that we are special, interesting, attractive or important. But regardless of what others express toward us, it is a requirement of feeling peaceful that we come to understand our own worthiness.
In June I spent 10 days at a silent retreat. At first I was nervous about what I was getting myself into. There was no computer, television, music, meat, men and women were separated. Upon arrival, they confiscated cell phones, car keys and anything else that might tempt someone to break silence or run away.
During the ten days I felt, confusion, happiness, loneliness, relief, peace, ease, anticipation, curiosity, pain and disappointment. I watched these feelings rise and pass. I watched as memories came and went. I watched as fantasies, dreams, fears, hopes and wishes ran through my mind like they were caged animals finally set free.
I walked in the forest everyday and ate in silence wondering what my fellow retreaters were feeling and where they all came from. We had the opportunity to mediate for ten hours a day. Sometimes I was focused and present with my body. Other times I was day dreaming, other times I fell asleep.
By the end, I felt fascinated by the idea of spending longer periods of time with myself. And it was a pleasure getting to know myself more deeply. I felt like I was starting to make up for every moment I had ever felt ignored or dismissed. I finally let my mind and body know that I accept it by giving it the time to be itself without bombarding it with outside things. The human body and mind is just as fascinating, if not more so, than the busy world. It must be since the busy world was imagined up by people just like you and me.
When I got back to the city, I felt a shift in my willingness to pay attention to the needs of my body. I had become gentler with myself. I check in with my body throughout the day and ask it what it needs. Sometimes it's something as simple as a glass of water or a stretch. And sometimes it needs a massage or wants to dance or cry. I used to think spending time alone was boring. Now I find it highly stimulating. And my body is happy that I am treating it with the care and attention that it deserves. After all, it decided to stick by me for the entirety of this lifetime and continue functioning even when I neglect it or overwhelm it.
Silence is where we start the practice of unconditional love for ourselves and in turn the world around us. When we are able to sit with feelings that are uncomfortable or pleasurable, and just watch them rise and pass, we come to know our ever changing true nature. We are in motion, we are never the same from one moment to the next. When we become more and more aware of subtlety we stand firmly in a position of greater power and are able to change direction more swiftly. Our choices become choices based on our dreams and goals instead of choices based on our fears. We are able to break patterns and old habits. Having access to subtlety gives us greater access to the present moment. And the present moment is the only moment we have to take a step in the direction of our ultimate life.
Be still and allow this moment to emerge through you. Learn to trust yourself and this life experience. Come to know that your life is this moment, this choice. Is this moment going to uplift the quality of your experience or take away from it?
We learn our habits from the world around us as children and teenagers and if we did not receive undivided attention, it can be hard to practice undivided attention later on in life. But it is necessary for health, wealth, peace, love and expansion. So many things divide our attention throughout the day. But even if we haven't been shown how to practice unconditional living, we can still give this to ourselves now. Just spend a few minutes each day away from everything else and let your body and mind know that you are here for them and that you care. Instead of continuing a cycle of non-sustainable self-soothing, or conditional living, we can begin a cycle of self-care and self-love.
Allow yourself to be silent. Allow yourself to get to know who you really are and embrace it and honor it. This is love. And if we don't give this to ourselves than how can we expect to receive it from others or give this to others?
-- A little love from Mala