In her book, “Entering the Castle,” Caroline Myss says that “silence is the soul’s oxygen.” I wonder, then, why we are so afraid of silence, why we build a life of busyness and distraction. I’m all for technology, but I have noticed that it’s become increasingly difficult for me not to constantly look at my phone. If there’s a little red circle in the corner of the app – something in me needs to see what it says. Who sent me a message? What update am I missing? It's no surprise that social media is designed to be addictive. This quick video shows that because social media provides immediate rewards with very little effort, the brain begins to re-wire itself, making us desire this kind of stimulus. On top of that, we begin to crave more of this neurological stimulation after each interaction! I’m becoming convinced that a digital detox is not only good for the soul, but good for our brains as well.
As some of you know, I’m a big fan of silent retreats. Not the comically rigid silent retreats that require getting up at 4:30 am, sitting all day in meditation and only eating fruit. I believe that the austere approach is outdated. We can access the voice of the soul in nurturing, supportive environments, without going to extremes. However, practicing silence does seem to be an important aspect of the path.
Holding silence can be other-wordly wonderful, but often we must walk through some noisy streets in order to get to the bliss. As we quiet the outer voice, the inner voice often gets louder. It’s as though part of us realizes, “Hey, she can hear us now, let’s go for it!” And the parts of us that we normally distract ourselves from take the stage.
But it’s not to torture us. These parts of ourselves are subconsciously playing out anyway - like toddlers in an inflatable bouncy castle. They are always trying to find ways get our attention – in our relationships, our work, our daily challenges. But, until we actually stop and really listen to what they need and welcome them into our higher awareness, they will continue to tug on our pant leg.
When we make room and space for tending to the soul, like on a silent retreat, the ego can feel threatened – and it acts as a kind of gate keeper. So, we’ll suddenly find the bed utterly unbearable. Or, we'll feel annoyed with someone for seemingly no reason at all. We want to leave. We want to go home, back to our familiar comfort zone.
One of the reasons we avoid silence is because of this natural discomfort. As the Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron says:
“There is a common misunderstanding among the human beings who have ever been born on earth that the best way to live is to try to avoid pain and just try to get comfortable…If we are committed to comfort at any cost, as soon as we come up against the least edge of pain, we’re going to run; we’ll never know what’s beyond that particular barrier or wall or fearful thing…Ordinarily we are swept away by habitual momentum. We don’t interrupt our patterns even slightly…”
I have found that on the other side of this discomfort lies sublime sweetness - a lightness of being. It’s worth the trouble of stepping outside of the ego’s dominance and into the realm of the soul, but it takes a bit of effort to get there. Meditation isn’t for everyone – it can be nearly impossible for some people to sit in one place and observe the antics of the mind. But maybe it’s a good idea to carve out times of silence.
Here are some ideas to experiment with:
1) Resist the urge to check your phone right when you wake up.
2) During the day, leave your phone at your desk and walk outside for a bit.
3) On the weekend, start with a half hour, and practice NOT TALKING (or checking social media). It's not about being rigid, closed-off, or isolated. It's about switching from being on transmit, to being on receive as you move through whatever it is you are doing. It's an intentional time when you say to yourself, "Hey, I'm listening. What's up? What's really going on with me? What is being reflected back in the world around me?" Eventually, you can work up to carving out longer stretches of this delicious practice.
4) Book a weekend at a location with no WIFI.
5) Open to the possibility of experiencing a silent retreat in a supportive, nurturing environment.
There is a deeper reality just outside of our ordinary awareness…
“The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear.”