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Silence & Stillness

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The next element to introduce into our lives if we are to hear the whisper of the soul and embrace who we really are is stillness and silence. In order to understand why I will very briefly recap some of the previous articles to put this next stage into context.

Who are you? What parts of you are really you? By that I mean are you your personality, your body, your choice of career or the roles you perform in life such as being a spouse or parent. Are any of these things really you? We all have to adapt and do things in order to get on in life but that doesn’t mean that any of them are our identity. I’m not a plumber but I temporarily take on that role if I mend a leaking tap. I do what is needed at the time. The same can be said for pretty much everything we do in life. Who we really are is what survives when it is time to let go of our physical body and go back home.
For those on the spiritual quest, it is this immortal part of us that we seek to grow awareness of while living as a human being because of the inherent peace and stability it brings while dealing with life. This is only possible by learning how to recognise what is real and what is not and to stop identifying so heavily with temporary roles.

Two of the weapons used by the mind to keep us on stage in our soap-opera of suffering and superficiality is noise and action. It loves to “do” and it loves to fill our lives with constant distraction. This is increasingly easy to do when one looks at all the noisy distracting gadgets now available to us.
If an actor lived on his stage 24hours a day constantly in character then, over time, he would have difficulty distinguishing between who he really is and the role he is playing. That is not too dissimilar to how most of us live our lives. If we want find out who we are beyond the roles we play in our personal dramatic production then we must regularly step off stage and gain another perspective. As we see through the illusion more and more we find that we go deeper and deeper into ourselves, until a more enriching and profoundly satisfying experience reveals itself.

So how do we begin the process of stepping off-stage? One of the ways we can do this is by having periods of silence and stillness in our lives. It gives us time to refocus our attention, to process events healthily and to appreciate elements of life that can convey true meaning to the human experience such as staring at a sunset or watching how water runs off the glistening iridescent back of a kingfisher, for example. It also allows us to pause and draw breath and let our attention go inside us and reflect on how we feel. When we are in that space we begin to learn how to experience life with the heart instead of the head.
The greatest benefits from silence and stillness come when they are applied to the mind. If the mind is where our belief in what we think of as reality emanates then it is the mind that must be stilled for truth to emerge in time.
A simple and easy way to begin this process is to stop the mental commentary while watching a sunset for example. Be silent on the outside and, most importantly, be silent in the mind also. In other words “shut up and just drink in the experience”. All the while we are thinking or saying “this is lovely” or making any other observations we are not truly experiencing and connecting to what we are looking at.

I once went to an event and such was my excitement that I took my camera to take lots of pictures to record the day. I later realised as I looked at the pictures that by trying to record the event I hadn’t experienced the event. It was as if I hadn’t really been there. I would have had much more satisfying memories if I had just looked in silence and drunk in what was happening at the time.
Here is another example of what I mean: My wife and I were out walking recently and I pointed out an approaching flock of geese because I know how much she loves to see them. We began to discuss what we loved about seeing geese flying in formation until I said “Stop and just watch, nothing more”. We watched in awe and silence as they honked overhead and the sight became all the richer because we did it in silence and without commentating on it in our minds.

Stopping mental commentary can be harder than it seems and it can be quite shocking to see just how much we talk in our heads constantly about even the most trivial things. This almost continuous commentary on our lives helps us to keep believing that what is happening on our stage is all so real. Learning how to stop the mind-chatter in everyday life and developing skilful use of the mind requires patience, but it can be done and it is life-changing.
 
Meditation creates silence and stillness in the mind and teaches us how to turn off our commentary better than anything I know of. It can show us that almost everything we think about ourselves is false, as well as helping to replace the scattered thinking that modern life inherently generates with more focussed thoughts. By incorporating silence and stillness into our lives through meditation we can create the space for deeper thoughts to come to us and, in time, our intuition can be heard, too. Its effects go way beyond the time spent actually meditating. We become calmer and practise more skilful thinking in everyday life and even learn to recognise when we don’t need to think at all. In other words it helps us to let go.

With consistent time given to meditation, our mental ripples calm sufficiently so that we get a glimpse of what is underneath the surface and I have found that a feeling of peace and safety develops. We begin to see life differently and tend not to get so caught up in the drama of it all because of this new perspective.
I have much work to do but I have experienced extraordinary things in times of silence and stillness. I have experienced a sensation of moving into an infinite space. It was so vast that I immediately anticipated that I would be scared but I was not. At first I felt I was a tiny speck in an infinite universe but, as my awareness grew, I realised I was the universe. I was everything, all that is. I didn’t have a beginning or end. There was no “me” as such, only oneness. Trying to write down this experience is like a mouse trying to describe quantum theory but it was glorious and profound.

At other times in meditation I have contacted such intense bliss that I was only able to touch it briefly. In the true nature of meditation, the next time I tried I got nowhere, probably because of all the expectations of repeating that experience that I took into the session.

Between us and that kind of experience of who we really are lies our mind and its various defences. How deep those defences are depends on many things such as how invested we are in running away from our true selves and how heavily identified we are in our false roles such as needing to achieve, or worry, or please others etc. Our past emotional experiences create mental defences that we have to be willing to give up over time. Silence and stillness in our lives, especially through meditation, gradually help us to learn how to let go and give up these defences. Most importantly it reduces the mind’s drive to “do” all the time. This need to “do” can also get involved in our quest for spirituality and lead us round in circles. The mind-driven need to “do” causes us to chase spirituality through constant learning and doing instead of developing an attitude of accepting and allowing where the space for our growth can happen naturally.

If an acorn is planted in the ground and given the right conditions, an oak tree is the inevitable end product. It may take many of our life times for it to reach its full height but it will happen because the acorn cannot deny its destiny. It is what it is.
We are exactly the same as that acorn. Our acorn is accepting that we are spiritual beings and our true self is the oak tree. It we give ourselves the right conditions and the time and space it is inevitable that we will grow. But we insist on getting in the way of the process the whole time. We metaphorically rush out to get the best fertiliser as recommended by the experts, we fill up our watering cans in readiness and read book after book on how to grow our acorn. We research how to get an oak tree to grow faster because we want the fully grown tree in this life time. Then we endlessly ponder about the right place to plant the acorn. We do all of this except plant the darned thing and get out of the way and let it happen. In the end that’s all we need to do. The acorn KNOWS what it is and how to become a tree. It has everything it needs inside to achieve its destiny. It just needs to be planted and given time and space to grow.

The first parts of the process to realising the Secret of You have been to recognise all the false elements of your identity and move towards accepting that they are not really you. In other words you begin to see yourself as the acorn with all that potential for something magnificent inside.
The next stage is where you push your finger in the soil and drop in the acorn. It does not matter that you have seen no evidence whatsoever of the divine being that you really are. You cannot see the oak tree when you hold the acorn in your hand either. But with times of silence and stillness in our lives especially through meditation we can begin to nurture that seed and let it grow naturally.

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© Phil Grant unless otherwise attributed