The Sound of Silence: the practice of meditation

As dusk goes into night we hear the tawny owls here at Viveka Gardens in darker months. Then nothing. It’s not just city retreatants who say it is quiet here, even visitors from the the sleepy little village across the valley in say so too. But even with everything digital off, we all know how noisy the mind is. The practice of meditation, or contemplation in Christian faith, silences the mind. So what is this sound of silence?

In a nutshell, I would say it is an experience of complete ease, joy, oneness. Clarity and numinousness (look that up!). Some might stop there but I would also say it is coming face to face with God – darshan in sanskrit – and a comprehension of our relationship: communion. Okay! This is very high and glimpsed just often enough, or the hope of it, to keep us on a spiritual path. But also off-putting, perhaps, if a beginner, no glimpses so far and crunchy knees.

Luckily yoga practices train us, and they are offered in a scale know as the ‘Eight Limbs’, ashtanga. Very briefly:

1&2: A set of ethics consisting of ten dos and don’ts (the yamas and niyamas, analagous to the ten commandments) because if you know you’ve behaved badly, how can you sit with yourself?

3&4: asana (yoga exercises) and pranayama (breathing exercises) to make the body strong and flexible and the nervous system resilient because if you can’t sit still how can you transcend your body-mind?

5: pratyahara, ‘withdrawal of the senses’, like a tortoise drawing in its limbs and head!

6&7: dharana, one-pointed concentration but awareness of the process and dhyana, meditation proper, flowing like honey

8: samadhi, the bliss state, the nutshell I tried to describe, but unique and glorious to each.

Luckily we can go forward on all fronts: living well, doing the practice and then sitting…just sitting. Then the mind can get really busy with the day’s/week’s/lifetime self-justification about this and that. If we can rise above that, a big mirror of our faults comes up and we feel shame. As we are told in the Sermon on the Mount, ‘blessed are the poor in spirit’: self-awareness and humility are blessings. And so this stage is a big practice of forgiving others and ourselves, as well as gratitude and loving kindness.

Just sitting with all this can take a while. In fact viveka, discernment, is the name for this process; what a rod for my back in naming this space Viveka Gardens! But grace will come, and if you have faith (and this is a benefit of Christian faith I did not find in yoga), you make yourself open to ultimate forgiveness, finding yourself as a child: simple, open and wonderous.

Free of the pains and pleasures in the temporary material world vairagya – dispassion/non-attachment /renunciation – descends on us. Then we are ready to ascend through the last three stages towards the bliss state, the sound of silence.

So come for yoga, learn the physical techniques, have faith or spiritual support to help you to live righteously and to help you compute the pain of life, and let’s just sit. And maybe we’ll experience the sound of silence.

 

Meditation circle with spiritual readings and discussion

2nd Wednesday of the month

7 – 9pm

Free: donations of flowers for the altar and vegan cakes/sweets or snacks (yummy quality over quantity) or fruit welcome. RSVP

see the dates on facebook events

Other opportunities coming up for Quiet, if not Silence

Quiet Day 15th February

Yin and Nidra Workshop 2nd February

Spring Equinox Yoga and Food Growing Weekend or Day Retreat 

Friday Night Nidra

Fr Richard Rohr is a Franciscan monk and a Christian writer who particularly bridges with the nondual philosophy of yoga. If you want to go deeper, read here then talk to me!