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The power of silence

I think that silence can be a very powerful practice and I thought it would be interesting to explore how we can use it. It seems particularly relevant given the busy and noisy environments that many of us live in.

I've spent a lot of time in silence on retreat, and it can have a remarkable effect over time. Not just in terms of calming the mind, but also becoming aware of other people in a deeper way. Maintaining silence on a retreat forces you to be much more aware of other people and their needs. So for example at breakfast you don't say "Pass the jam", you rely on others to be aware that you might want some jam on your toast! After a while you just know what people are thinking and feeling and what they need.

I've led a number of silent day retreats. Mostly in a Buddhist context, although as I've mentioned here I recently led a "Quaker Quiet Day". There they do "silent worship" instead of meditation, but perhaps the two activities are not so different anyway.

lobsterkarastiTelly03mmoHamsakaBunksEarthninjaStraight_ManShoshinRowan1980
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Comments

  • lobsterlobster Veteran Veteran

    I would suggest that all 'advanced' contemplative traditions practice interior silence.

    . . . also consider this:

    One day while Bodhi Shibli was passing through populated area of Karkh, in Baghdad, he heard an imposter who was saying that Silence was better than speech. Shibli said to him, “your silence is better than your speech, for your speech is vanity and your silence is an idle jest but my speech is better than my silence, because my silence is gentleness and my speech is knowledge.”

    . . . now that might sound like 'spiritual arrogance'. It is not. Only a genuine gnostic has the integrity rather than the inclination to speak this way.

    Most of us are not at the stage or realisation of Shibli and still have to acquire personal silence of the monkey mind . . .

    So I totally agree with Spiny on where we can be friends with Quackery :p (Society of Friends), dervishes, Hasidic wisdom, new age prancers, esotericists, shamanic traditions, even trees, lovers and librarians . . .

    Shhhhh . . . <3

    Jeffreyhow
  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Moderator

    I have never been on silent retreat, but one day would love to. I am home alone all day, but it's far from silent. Where I live is very quiet, but I spend all day talking to our pets, lol. Interesting observations about being more aware of what people need. I find the same, though not on the level you've experienced of course. The more distractions I give up, the more that awareness comes.

    lobstermmo
  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran

    @lobster said:> I would suggest that all 'advanced' contemplative traditions practice interior silence.> So I totally agree with Spiny on where we can be friends with Quackery :p (Society of Friends), dervishes, Hasidic wisdom, new age prancers, esotericists, shamanic traditions, even trees, lovers and librarians . . .

    I was chatting to the local Quaker Elder recently, and saying that the beauty of silence is that it can be practised by anyone, any tradition or none.

    It might be interesting to explore the relationship between inner and outer silence, and I've found there to be a strong relationship between the two. Also it feels like we can waste a lot of energy finding things to say, it can all get rather superficial and distracting.

    Telly03lobster
  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran

    @Telly03 said:> > "Traditionally most Indians have tended to prefer listening rather than speaking. Talking for talking’s sake is rarely practiced. Talk, just as work, must have a purpose. Small talk and light conversation are not especially valued except among very close acquaintances. In Indian thought, words have a primordial power so that when there is a reason for their expression, it is generally done carefully. In social interaction, the emphasis is on affective rather than verbal communication. When planning and presenting lessons, it is best to avoid pressing a class discussion or asking a long series of rapid-fire questions.http://nwindian.evergreen.edu/curriculum/ValuesBehaviors.pdf

    Fascinating. I found this reminiscent of Right Speech in Buddhism.

    lobster
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator
    edited February 2015

    "Go placidly amidst the noise and haste,
    And remember what peace there may be in Silence...."

    I once undertook to do a sponsored silence in aid or the RNID. I was actually silent, during working hours, from 08.30 until 18.00.
    At the time, I worked for a little sandwich bar, taking delivery orders and then getting them made up, put into refrigerated boxes and delivering them to local firms.

    I therefore came into contact with a lot of people, as you can imagine.
    After the first hour, I found it astonishingly easy to simply keep my mouth closed and let other open theirs and put their foot in them.... People would write things down for me, on the assumption I also couldn't hear.... they would talk about me, in front of me, as if I wasn't there....Bear in mind these were people I interacted with every day ....!

    But on a personal level, I actually found it incredibly liberating. Not feeling I had to fill any silence or speak in any gaps or lulls in conversation.... we all do, you know.
    Silences make us feel 'uncomfortable'.

    One of the most important instructions in any course on selling is, 'after your sales pitch, ask the closing question, then SHUT UP.'

    If you try to fill that following, interim silence, you are done for.
    The guy who sold a computing program to ICI asked his closing question to the CEO, and then shut up, and sat in silence for nearly a half hour, before the CEO gave in, and signed the contract.

    People hate silence. Hence 'muzak' in stores and malls, hence people 'turning on the radio or TV for "background music"....

    But silence is a glorious, and rare commodity.
    We should really seek it out, and revel in it.

    One of my favourite memories is of taking my dog for a walk over untrodden fields, where the now lay thick and untouched. The sheer total silence, where the snow absorbed any sound, was deafening, and wonderful....

    Bunks
  • lobsterlobster Veteran Veteran

    One of my favourite memories is of taking my dog for a walk over untrodden fields, where the now lay thick and untouched. The sheer total silence, where the snow absorbed any sound, was deafening, and wonderful....

    We haz poem:

    One of my favourite memories is
    of taking my dog for a walk over untrodden fields,
    where the now lay thick and untouched.
    The sheer total silence, where the now absorbed any sound,

    was deafening, and wonderful....

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    miss one consonant and it takes on a whole new meaning.....

    :+1:

    anataman
  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Moderator

    it's interesting all the little things we do to avoid ourselves. We talk a lot about nothing, we fidget, we put our hands in our pockets then take them out and cross them. We seem to never know what to do with our arms/hands. It's kind of strange, all our anxieties and fears. We're afraid a lot, including of silence, but it seems what it comes down to is being afraid of ourselves-of what is there when we don't fill the space with something. Being in that space allows us to be spacious but wow does it make us uncomfortable.

    Bunks
  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran

    Has anyone done solitary retreats?

    The longest one I did was 2 months, the odd thing was I really didn't want to return to the world at the end of it. I stayed on a farm in an old caravan which was in the corner of a cow field. I admit I did talk to the cows, they were very laid back and liked to have their heads scratched.

    BunksHamsaka
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    Oddly enough, I can sort of equate, though, understandably, on a far lesser level... come the time for me to 'come out of' my sponsored silence, in the evening, I found myself quite reluctant to begin talking and interacting normally, again.......

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Moderator

    I don't have the ability right now to spend significant chunks of time away from home. But I do go a couple times in the summer on solitary camping retreats. I enjoy them very much. I, too, don't want to leave. But I have also found the more I retreat into myself, the more difficult it is to interact with the world and for me, practice is nothing if I can't bring it to the rest of the world. I enjoy it for what it is though, and find the recharge time very rewarding.

  • BunksBunks Veteran Australia Veteran

    @federica said:
    "Go placidly amidst the noise and haste,
    And remember what peace there may be in Silence...."

    I once undertook to do a sponsored silence in aid or the RNID. I was actually silent, during working hours, from 08.30 until 18.00.
    At the time, I worked for a little sandwich bar, taking delivery orders and then getting them made up, put into refrigerated boxes and delivering them to local firms.

    I therefore came into contact with a lot of people, as you can imagine.
    After the first hour, I found it astonishingly easy to simply keep my mouth closed and let other open theirs and put their foot in them.... People would write things down for me, on the assumption I also couldn't hear.... they would talk about me, in front of me, as if I wasn't there....Bear in mind these were people I interacted with every day ....!

    But on a personal level, I actually found it incredibly liberating. Not feeling I had to fill any silence or speak in any gaps or lulls in conversation.... we all do, you know.
    Silences make us feel 'uncomfortable'.

    One of the most important instructions in any course on selling is, 'after your sales pitch, ask the closing question, then SHUT UP.'

    If you try to fill that following, interim silence, you are done for.
    The guy who sold a computing program to ICI asked his closing question to the CEO, and then shut up, and sat in silence for nearly a half hour, before the CEO gave in, and signed the contract.

    People hate silence. Hence 'muzak' in stores and malls, hence people 'turning on the radio or TV for "background music"....

    But silence is a glorious, and rare commodity.
    We should really seek it out, and revel in it.

    One of my favourite memories is of taking my dog for a walk over untrodden fields, where the now lay thick and untouched. The sheer total silence, where the snow absorbed any sound, was deafening, and wonderful....

    Respect @federica!

    I can't imagine doing that at work.

    I often practice silence on this forum :)

  • genkakugenkaku Veteran Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran

    I can't remember which Zen teacher said it -- Aitken or Kapleau -- but one of them once observed, "Silence is golden ... and sometimes its color is pure yellow."

    how
  • anatamananataman Who needs a title? Where am I? Veteran
    edited February 2015

    If colour defines form, silence makes it proud...

  • lobsterlobster Veteran Veteran

    @SpinyNorman said:
    Has anyone done solitary retreats?

    Coming up for one soon.
    Did one in Cornwall in March, in a tent. Was colder than I expected and spent the first night doing 'shivering meditation'. Most of my retreats are now solitary. I stay connected (my retreat, my way). However in a group retreat, cyber silence is the word . . . not sure if I want to go on silent group retreats anymore. Silent Buddhists are so noisy. :p

    anatamanDairyLama
  • anatamananataman Who needs a title? Where am I? Veteran

    Can't agree more...The noisiest buddhists are those who hide behind themselves...

  • pegembarapegembara Veteran Veteran

    Silenced in body, silenced in speech,
    silenced in mind, without inner noise,
    Blessed with silence is the sage!
    He is truly washed of all evil ...

    (Itivuttaka 3.67)

    DairyLamaEarthninja
  • zenffzenff Veteran Veteran

    … for example at breakfast you don't say "Pass the jam", you rely on others to be aware that you might want some jam on your toast! After a while you just know what people are thinking and feeling and what they need….
    @SpinyNorman

    I agree with the general idea. Silence is absolutely beautiful and it has healing capabilities probably.

    But I thought it was a rather silly when we tried to get a Buddhist ceremony organized in the Zendo and tried to do that in silence. There were rules about filling up empty spots in the front, where people had left for preparing the meal or something. Have you ever tried to get someone to move to another mat just with mental power? It doesn’t work very well.
    I found that some sort of powerful sign language is working. Or ultimately just grabbing people and pushing them to where you want them to go. Anyways it showed the limits of what you can do in silence.

    Another thing is the idea that you “just know what people are thinking and feeling”. I suppose it works up to a point: the person holding his empty cup could very well be wishing for some tea. But it also is where projections flourish. Don’t fill in what people are thinking or feeling when all you have to go on is something you think you saw in their eyes. It is bound to go wrong. In real life just ask.

    Silence may be golden but communication, compared to that, is probably some very practical material like wood or iron or plastic. Communication makes things work.

  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran
    edited February 2015

    @zenff said:Another thing is the idea that you “just know what people are thinking and feeling”.

    There I was talking about an extended period of silence, say on a 2 or 3 week retreat. You do become mindful of people in a much deeper way. They say that most communication is non-verbal and that's very much in evidence after a longer period of silence with a group of people. Obviously you're not going to experience this after a few hours, or even a few days, but it's remarkable what happens as time goes on.

    lobster
  • zenffzenff Veteran Veteran

    I can imagine that the non-verbal communication (especially the reading part) gets better in time.

  • zenffzenff Veteran Veteran

    But a verbal verification of what is “non-verbally read” can still lead to surprising outcomes I’m sure.

  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran
    edited February 2015

    But I know from being an ex-social worker that it's more complicated than that, because people don't always say what they are really thinking and feeling. In a job like that you learn to read non-verbal clues and develop an eye for detail. Even now I know instinctively when somebody is hiding something, I know from their body language how they are feeling, and so on. And when somebody is speaking their tone of voice and speech patterns can be very revealing. I think we all have this ability, but in some jobs and roles it gets more developed.
    It's a specialism for people in law enforcement for example.

    lobster
  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran Veteran

    i went and lived in germany after only 1 year of german study. it was so interesting how I got by talking to people right at first. Wow. What an experience. It is probably one of the most interesting things I will do let alone have done.

  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran
    edited February 2015

    @Jeffrey said:> i went and lived in germany after only 1 year of german study. it was so interesting how I got by talking to people right at first. Wow. What an experience. It is probably one of the most interesting things I will do let alone have done.

    I remember going on a school exchange trip to France, one of those where you stay with a family for several weeks and then reciprocate. What surprised me was how quickly I started thinking in French, it started to happen after only a week or so.

  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran Veteran

    I had no understanding of the radio. And then like a cut off point all in one day I could hear the radio. Of course not every word but I could hear what was said. I don't think I totally thought in German. I am not sure.

  • lobsterlobster Veteran Veteran

    Dear friends and noisy ones,

    Do consider, if you have the hardware visiting SecondLife.com where they have daily cyber meditations, moments of silence, teachings, retreats etc

    Just been there in my best cloak and a hat left over from last Christmas to pay homage to cyber-Buddha. . .

  • anatamananataman Who needs a title? Where am I? Veteran

    Silence has immense power, as attested above. What is amazing is that even when the world is as noisy as can be, if one opens the mind to it (and this can be witnessed by silent meditation as the mind settles) there is to be found the vast background silence that is always reassuringly there... Always! Without it you couldn't understand or appreciate what is being heard. Ssshhhhhhh now. Hear it?

    pegembara
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    I never experience complete silence. That luxury has been taken away from me, and I will be deprived of it, for as long as I live.

    I miss it.

  • anatamananataman Who needs a title? Where am I? Veteran

    But you know it is there, otherwise your tinnitus wouldn't exist! Perhaps tinnitus is your aural illumination!

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    Yes, and perhaps it is what it is. A bloody endless, continuous permanent-as-long-as-I'm-alive inconvenient affliction.
    I've tried every which way positive to label it as a hidden blessing, and I'm frankly fed up of pretending it is.

    It bloody well isn't. It's intrusive, demoralising, inhibitive and makes people think you're stupid, because you haven't heard them properly, due to an uncontrollable screaming in your head.

    Like the man, three weeks ago, when I was standing in a queue (they call the next in line, with an electronic 'bell')

    "Oi, you! It's your turn! What the fuck's the matter with you, you fuckin' deaf or sumfin'..?!"

    "Oh, sorry! Thank you for letting me know! Yes, I am as it happens..." I smiled sweetly in response.

    Trust me, it was nothing to do with me being mindful of giving a skilful response.
    I wanted him to feel like a moron. And I succeeded.

    anatamannamarupa
  • namarupanamarupa Veteran Veteran

    I am quite sure that silence has a role in right speech, just as you have shown.

    lobster
  • howhow Veteran Veteran
    edited February 2015

    True silence only points out there is no such thing as silence, just contrasts between one level of input compared to another.

    On the physical side, as an absence of sound approaches, our own brains search for and fill what may have seemed a possible silence.
    while
    on the spiritual side, there is an underlying thrum to existence, which all sentience shares in.

    The real power of silence is discovering that silence is only a state of imagination.

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    It therefore follows, according to your theory, that tinnitus is the same.

    I've tried believing that..... sadly, the belief evades me.

  • howhow Veteran Veteran

    federica

    Too vague for me to be sure what you are referring to. I think you might be saying that the right belief could not fix tinnitus.
    This I agree with, although the fundamental difference between one's pain and one's suffering strongly applies to how disruptive such a stimuli can be.

    My post was actually about the nature of silence and when closely examined free of our own editing, how illusory it really was.
    That real silence is more about stillness that an imagined soundlessness.

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator
    edited February 2015

    It's been extraordinarily bad today. I normally use an 'on a 1 to 10' scale but today, it was way higher than that. I don't remember the last time it was so loud....

    "White noise" or using any other form of audial stimulus to negate the tinnitus is completely ineffective, as all it does is 'compete'.

    I just have to wait for it to abate, because it never completely subsides.....

    I would say now, it's down to a level of 7 on the scale.
    It's formidably oppressive, and it's extremely challenging to not 'suffer' through something that is psychologically painful, constant and persistent, but physically intangible.

  • anatamananataman Who needs a title? Where am I? Veteran
    edited February 2015

    http://www.tinnitus.org.uk/sound-therapy

    Does none of this work or help alleviate it?

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    I repeat:

    @federica said: "White noise" or using any other form of audial stimulus to negate the tinnitus is completely ineffective, as all it does is 'compete'.

    Using any form of sound to attempt to neutralise or lessen the effect of my tinnitus just makes it turn itself up in volume.

    It makes it worse.

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator
    edited February 2015

    It's documented, in my medical records. It's because I also suffer from Hyperacusis.

  • howhow Veteran Veteran
    edited February 2015

    @federica
    I can't imagine white noise helping at all.
    If stress factors are to be believed as the aggravaters of tinnitus, your life circumstances lately might certainly explain why it has gotten so bad.

    My tinnitus seems to ebb and flow according to how much attention I give it.
    It is always there in the background but can move from uncomfortable to unpleasant depending how much focus I give it. Either focusing on it or trying to push it away, is an open invitation for it to become dominant where as giving my other senses equal billing with my hearing has it lessen.

    Nothing though that you have not already discovered.

    I'm such a slow pecker..Just saw your post about "Hyperacusis" which is a nasty complication,

  • anatamananataman Who needs a title? Where am I? Veteran

    What about other distraction techniques? Performing certain tasks for instance.

    Focusing on it will obviously amplify it as I have found in my painful condition.
    For instance, when I had an episode of my cluster migraines, just before my first son was born (and my wife had been given a TENS machine in preparation for a home birth that didn't happen), I had this idea that using the TENS machine on my neck where I felt the pain radiating out from might cancel it out. Boy was I wrong - within 5 minutes of 'the therapy' I had the most intense pain imaginable and ended up collapsing in a heap and throwing up uncontrollably... For 6 weeks after I had a continuous pain in the left side of my face and a droopy eyelid... I suppose all I had done was cause resonance with the natural frequency of the pain impulses, and had amplified them to an extreme.

    The greatest distraction that helps reduce from 10 to 6-7 on the 1-10 pain scale is to walk and mentally chant. The best treatment though is the prescribed injections.

    Trial and error and the hope that medical advances come up with a solution is what you need, I hope that is something that becomes available to you.

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    @SpinyNorman , sorry to have deviated so far from the original intent of your thread. I never meant to go this far off topic (and in such an opposite direction!) nor did I honestly want it to become 'about me'....

    I do hear it less when I'm distracted, yes, it's true. The distraction literally moves my consciousness "outside" of myself.

    But sometimes (like when I'm knitting) the silence of what I'm doing actually draws my attention back to it....

    It's a tricky one..... But Meditation and drawing my focus to something else, helps.... I sometimes audibly breathe in (as if I'm swooping soup off a spoon) and I hum as I breathe out.....( I'm sure I must sound like a nutter, to anyone who might chance to overhear me!)..

    But today it really got me......

  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran

    I don't notice my tinnitus most of the time, it's just something I've got used to. Something to be accepted and forgotten about really.

  • lobsterlobster Veteran Veteran

    @how said:
    The real power of silence is discovering that silence is only a state of imagination.

    Can you say more about this? Are you referring to the 'real power of emptiness' perhaps? Or have I imagined that? :)

  • howhow Veteran Veteran

    @lobster said:

    @Lobster

    Don't be tracking in yer high highfaluting emptiness footprints all over ma clean postings!
    Yeahhh, nothing to see here folks, just keep moving on.
    ..but speaking of nothing???

    Go sit. Contemplate silence. Is the absence of sound possible? Even neurons firing to say they can't hear anything, make sound. Real silence is simply not achievable while we still live and so can only be experienced as a dream.

    Silence, like boredom is just not paying close enough attention to what was always there.

    lobster
  • lobsterlobster Veteran Veteran

    ^^^ many thanks, will note the 'music' without pause . . . :)

  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    Silence...No noise just sound...

  • zenffzenff Veteran Veteran

    @federica said: I think you completely misunderstand what a teaching experience in itself, being silent is supposed to be.
    It's not a question of seeing the difficulties. It's a question of creating new and different opportunities….

    All I did was pointing out that the coin has two sides. When we adore the subtle silence we should not forget to simply ask and tell. Communicating is essential for working together and for correcting wild projections. We can’t read people’s minds. When we assume otherwise we are bound to make a mess.

    I’m not just being contrary. One big lesson I learned was in a class about speaking in public. The counter-intuitive lesson I learned was that if the speaker wants the audience to listen better he shouldn’t raise his voice but lower it. Speaking more softly raises the level of attention of the audience, and the ultimate tool of getting people’s attention is allowing carefully chosen moments of silence.

    This particular teacher demonstrated beautifully how powerful the use of silence in telling a story can be.

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    Yes, a remarkably good musician, a friend of mine Earl Okin, does that too....

    Good and effective communication, be it verbal or otherwise, is essential.... As a Dog Behaviourist, I have learnt to read canine body language, and it comes as a surprise to many when I tell them that everything - BUT EVERYTHING - a dog does, is a form of communication.
    No movement is wasted.

    And people do the same, mostly unconsciously, unwittingly and completely unaware that that's what they're doing.
    It came in useful, when I participated in Counselling sessions. My oh my, did it ever.....

    zenfflobster
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