Dag Hammerskjöld (1905 ~ 1961) said, “We all have within us a center of stillness surrounded by silence.” Yet, for some, silence and stillness are elusive. Caught up in the hustle and bustle of daily life, they find it difficult to drown out the clamor swirling about them. Even if they can retreat to a quiet spot, there is still the endless chatter in their minds to deal with. By chatter, I mean the swarm of thoughts that endlessly races through our minds. This incessant self-talk is like ripples on the surface of a pool, obscuring the stillness and serenity that lies deep within.
Stress can be a friend, for when it arrives, it gently tells us, “You need a break. You need to find solace in solitude. Dive deeply into the silence within. For it is in silence that we rejuvenate.” Once we develop the habit of regularly visiting our inner oasis of silence, we will discover that there isn’t any noise after all, just the sounds of life.
Some find their inner stillness through the path of meditation. Yet, it isn’t necessary to sit quietly with eyes closed to experience the tranquility of silence. It is just as accessible when enjoying nature or taking a walk. In his book, “Echoes of Silence,” Robert Rabbin paints a wonderful illustration:
“We walk along a beach in that beautiful time of twilight and dusk. As we walk, our thoughts and concerns leave us one by one. We walk further and we become still without even noticing it, until we step out of time. We are no longer walking on the beach. We are no longer looking at the sky or sinking sun. We are no longer watching the birds or running away from the surf. In our walking, something has happened: we have walked out of ourselves into everything. We have become everything. We don’t know if the birds are circling and diving out there, or in here. We are the birds. We are the waves, the sand, the cool air, the fading light, the setting sun. We are the animating presence within everything. We are all of this, without so much as a single thought or word to confirm it. There is no center, no boundary, no self-consciousness. There is no effort, no concern, no problem, no intention, no ambition-and yet everything is happening: walking, breathing, flying. Something is aware. Someone is aware. What? Who? No one can say. There is too much Silence for thoughts and words.”
Lao-Tzu (c. sixth century BC) sums up the paragraph of Robert Rabbin in a single line, “Just remain in the center, watching. And then forget that you are there.” In other words, we first become absorbed BY what we see, then become absorbed IN what we see. For example, we may see a dewdrop resting on a flower petal. At first we see its sparkling beauty, and are later overcome by the power of its silence. Finally, it and its surroundings absorb us until nothing remains but silence.
So, meditation -helpful as it is- isn’t necessary to discover the sanctuary of silence. A simple walk will do. In fact, even that is unnecessary, for as Franz Kafka (1883 ~ 1924) wrote, “You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait. Do not even wait, be quite still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice. It will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” To discover silence is like an orphan discovering their parents, for silence -nothingness- is the womb from which all that is has come forth. Therefore, when you search for nothing(ness), you find everything.
Lao-Tzu uncovered a great paradox when he taught, “Silence is the great revelation.” We may turn to books for revelation, but the authors of the books we read found the interlude of silence to be a source of inspiration and an opportunity to fashion their thoughts. So, by entering our own inner silence, we can bypass authors and go direct to the source. Here’s how Aldous Huxley (1894 ~ 1963) describes what awaits us when we do so, “Silence is as full of potential wisdom and wit as the unshorn marble of great sculpture.”
There are some that busy themselves in all manner of rituals and religious practices to prepare themselves for another life. But as they chase after a future paradise, they kick up clouds of dust that hide the grandeur of this life. Instead of placing our hopes in a future life, why not make the most of what we already have? Stepping into the pool of silence helps us to experience joy now.
Perhaps you have seen a ray of sunshine pierce a black sky and give birth to a rainbow. When faced with staggering beauty, what do you say? Usually nothing. We are rendered speechless. To gasp in amazement at the incomprehensibility of the universe is to taste the waters of silence. Awe, wonder, and joy are silent. They beckon you, but their call is silent. To be aware of their presence we have to be still and listen.
The dust-covered traveler finally made it up to the guru. He asked the master, “How can I find God?”
But the guru said nothing.
“Why don’t you answer?” said the traveler.
“It is not because I could not answer that I was quiet,” replied the guru, “but because silence was the answer to your question. You see, silence is not the absence of noise, but the presence of the Divine.”
In her book “Illuminated Life,” Joan Chittister writes in a similar vein, “Silence is the cave through which the soul must travel, clearing out the dissonance of life as we go, so that the God who is waiting there for us to notice can fill us.” This statement of Ms Chittister reminds me of something Joseph Campbell (1904 ~ 1987) once wrote, “The cave you fear to enter contains the treasure you seek.”
If you wish to experience life, rather than be swept away by it, be sure to set aside some time each day, no matter how brief, to wade in the pool of silence. For there you will be able to recharge your batteries, tap into your inner wisdom, experience the gifts of wonder and awe, and join hands with all that is.