One winter, a man travels from his home in perpetually sunny, southern California to the snow-bound Upper Midwest and, from there, to a tropical island in the Pacific. He observes that in his home in southern California, the windows are almost always open to the constant, ambient hum of city activity, mixed with the sounds of a subdued version of nature.
Flying into the Upper Midwest, to stay in the home of friends, he is amazed by the nighttime silence of a snow-blanketed winter. There is an almost dead silence, common to the closed-windowed deep winter months. Even though he is in a large urban area, the home’s double pained windows, substantial insulation, combined with a doubly thick blanket of snow outside, keep audible sounds to a minimum. Who is not hibernating?
Finally, after a very long flight, he lands on an island in the Pacific Ocean. On his first night there surrounded by the lush jungle, a cacophony of sounds—typical of any viable tropical forest—keep his eyes wide open. Awake amid the common night calls, clicks and cries from the forest coming through the open window, he lays listening. Nothing seems to sleep.
Outside of a large, indoor flea market, near the metal railings around the expansive entryway, I stop unlocking my bicycle to look up. A middle-aged man is approaching, climbing a steep grade up from the lower-level parking lot. He is accompanied by three, young adult children. Everyone is fresh from church and dressed to the nines.
It is Sunday afternoon. My bicycle trip is a spontaneous break from the intensive gardening I was about all morning, designed to help me get the kinks out of my overworked arms, legs and spine.
Walking about four to five feet apart from one another, the family that is approaching me is so replete with the Light of God’s Grace that the space about them is suffused with a brightness akin to the light of the sun. My mouth opens involuntarily as I observe the spectacle of so much Light gathered about this one family.
Then, I watch as the protector of this group of amazing souls stiffens at the intensity of my gaping gaze, sure that my unkempt gardening clothes, mode of transportation and the dissimilarity of our backgrounds, our ethnicities, may also be putting him on edge.
I want to tell him about what I am seeing, so much Light; the love that each child holds; the radiant Grace present in their family; and, most especially, that his children are blessed and will be further blessed.
But, I say nothing.
Our physicality gets in the way. The physicality of our apparent dissimilarities shuts my mouth. The hurdle of inequitable social treatment silences my voice. Instead of inviting direct contact, I say a prayer of protection for this man and his children, asking God to keep these individuals out of harms way and to help them fulfill their holy blueprint.
“A periodical decree of silence is not a torture but a blessing.” Mahatma Gandhi
The conscious and regular observation of silence is a powerful practice, affording its practitioners the opportunity to watch internal thought processes, as well as would-be verbal reactions to various stimuli.
In silence, we have the luxury of observing what “would have come out of our mouths” without saying anything. At some point, for most practitioners, there is the realization that many of our automatic verbal responses are merely part of our social or domestic conditioning and seldom the responses we would choose to make, if were able to live our lives from the inner sancta of our hearts or from the seat of pure Spirit.
When first instituting the practice of silence in our home, I was amazed by the number of my would-be statements and responses that fit three distinct catagories. The first catagory was dedicated to the expression of my wanting to change things to fit my perceived needs or agenda; the second was simple commands, orders or requests for assistance from family members; and the third catagory was filled with unvarnished complaints about some perceived “discomfort” on my part.
The issue of verbal complaint brought to mind the gentle admonition on the part of the late, Sufi teacher, Pir Vilayat, who said, “If only we could all stop complaining, we would all become saints.”
Contemplating Pir Vilayat’s observation, I realized–from an energetic perspective–I was using a great deal of my verbal expression “time” largely in an attempt to orchestrate others and their behavior to accommodate me and my perceived needs, wants and/or desires. I began wondering, what would happen if there were a complete cessation of my least efficient verbal patterns, those used to “adjust” other peoples’ living patterns, and a redirection of that energy toward my attempting to accommodate my personal wants and needs?
Thus far, what I have observed is that, by reforming at least some of my old verbal habits, I have been able to create additional space and energetic autonomy in my days. I have been able to grow closer to that space within my heart that is beyond my social and domestic conditioning; and, there is a growing sense of time spaciousness in any given day, if I choose to disengage verbally. In general, the regular observation of silence has proven to be a boon in the context of a dedicated spiritual practice.
P.S. Later in his life, Mahatma Gandhi practiced silence for a twenty-four hour period each week. Gandhi used his twenty-four hours of silence to attend to his extensive written correspondence, as well as describing it as becoming, ultimately, a “vital spiritual need.”