The power of silence amidst a noisy world
We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature - trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence. We need silence to be able to touch souls. –Mother Teresa
When one walks into the realm of a 10-day meditation retreat, there can be a truckload of expectations in the mental universe, such as getting liberated from the ruts of suffering arising from desires, getting enlightened to end the cycle of birth and death. Everyone in this world possesses a burning urge of knowing the truth of their existence and it is a not a cakewalk, it requires a sincere seeker, a standardized process and a controlled environment. Vipassana meditation requires a commitment of atleast 10 days of one’s lifetime. Lord Buddha, the same prince Siddhartha Gautama who renounced the comforts of a palace to seek knowledge, rediscovered this process 2500 years ago. Post his enlightenment; he spent his remaining life in disseminating the know-how of this technique, and since then the wheel of awakening is being turned, the knowledge is being churned, and transferred from one generation to another by the disciplic succession. The father of these retreats is the late SN Goenka, who was raised in Myanmar and learned Vipassana from monks there.
I do my thing and you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,
And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you, and I am I,
and if by chance we find each other, it's beautiful.
If not, it can't be helped. —Fritz Perls, "Gestalt Therapy Verbatim," 1969
Mindfulness differs from Vipassana in the sense that the former focuses on awareness and the latter is different from transcendental meditation, which makes use of a mantra.
The only yardstick of success for a Vipassana practitioner is equanimity of mind, in the violent times of craving and aversion or of maintaining a balance of emotions in times of hankering and lamentation and establishing stability in times of distress and happiness. The focus is on the response to external situations and not on reacting to every situation, grave or trivial.
One who is enrolled and accepted for the course is required to maintain noble silence for 10 days. One cannot even look into each other’s eyes, as it begets communication and has the potency to derail the already unsteady mind from bearing the fruits of this process. It is always said to speak fitly or to be silent wisely. Since the childhood days, one proverb cemented in our memory structures is that speech is silver and silence is golden. In this age of extroverts, being an introvert is sometimes a taboo, but for a meditator, introversion is the non-negotiable personality trait. Turning one’s mind inward forms, a precursor to most yoga practices and it is always the journey within that is capable to transform the habit pattern of the mind from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.
Carol Dweck, a pioneer in the research pertaining to mindset, says one of the most basic beliefs we carry about ourselves has to do with how we view and inhabit what we consider to our personality.
Unlocking the growth mindset requires a formidable challenge and Vipassana meditation assimilates in this role for the following reasons:
1) Getting up at four in the morning, and sleeping at nine in the night challenges the circadian rhythm or the sleep cycle of the current day and age, especially the youth who are strongly motivated towards all-nighters and mired by the dual sword of procrastination and instant gratification.
2) Meditating in one posture for 10.5 hours of the day, even with breaks and breaths in between requires determination and tolerating the pain in the hands, legs and the whole body is another milestone, and tests the perseverance, tenacity and indefatigability of the human being.
3) A calm and quiet mind, an alert and attentive mind is the least distractible and in reality, mind which is the fastest functional unit in the world and predisposed to inattention, which has deficits in focus and concentration and therefore is an attraction for distractions and one is always overwhelmed by the constant influx of environmental stimuli, especially when the meditation requires an oath of following the five precepts. The precepts are commitments to abstain from killing living beings, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and intoxication.
4) In the initial days, mind is trained to observe the gross and subtle vibrations. When such mental faculty is developed, one is instructed to observe the sensations equanimously in one’s body, good, bad or unknown as one scans the limbs in a specific order. The only restraint one has to practice is to not develop attachment to the pleasant vibrations or develop hatred for the unpleasant vibrations. Easier said than done, one eventually falls into the trap of developing craving and aversion. Nevertheless, when the going gets tough, the tough gets going. By doing so, over 10 days, one trains oneself to stop reacting to the vicissitudes of life.
5) Last but not the least, silence is the greatest challenge here but, if one applies the power of silence to his her life, it can work wonders. “The soul always knows what to do to heal itself. The challenge is to silence the mind.” —Caroline Myss. Research has emboldened this idea. Some examples are given below:
In 2013, a study found that silence stimulated brain growth. A minimum of 2 hours of silence could result in the creation of new brain cells in the area of our brain is linked to learning and recall. On the contrary, noise affects our stress levels – raising cortisol and adrenaline. A study in the journal Heart in 2006 found silence can relieve tension in just two minutes. Abraham Lincoln said “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.
Periods of silence throughout the day enhance sleep and lessen insomnia. In addition, lowering sensory input helps us to restore our cognitive resources. Research throughout the 20th century has linked noise pollution to an increase in heart disease. Deepak chopra, an eminent author says, “There is no substitute for the creative inspiration, knowledge, and stability that comes from knowing how to contact your core of inner silence.”
Thus, no one is a born gymnast, a child grows and trains rigorously and then acquires the flexibility and finesse after tolerating the backbreaking pains, numerous falls, innumerable failures and years of continuity of practice and sacrifices, the gymnast reaps a gold medal at the Olympics. The mind employs defense mechanisms, when the subconscious mind is unable to handle the stress, but a wise man has said, that it is comparatively easier to control the speech, and not too difficult to control our actions but to control the mind requires the heart of a brave warrior and the extent of control we are able to establish determines our courage and for an enlightened soul, the ocean of miseries is equivalent to a puddle formed from the calf’s hoof print. Concisely, “Speak only when you feel your words are better than silence.” – Anon