Diversity Ecology Ethics Practice
In our ordinary sensing, perceiving, and thinking, everything around us exists as "outside" and "over there". We are spectators to ourselves and to the world. But in Silence everything displays its depth, and we find that we are part of the depth of everything around us. We are not adding our subjectivity to the world but discovering that the kind of separation between ourselves and the world we have adopted is illusion. We do not dissolve into the world, nor does the world dissolve into us in Silence; we and the world each mirror the other within the depths of the soul. We discover that each thing of the world lives deeply within us. But more, we discover that each of us, in the region of the soul, lives deeply within the soul of the world and the crossing point is the centering heart.
Robert Sardello, Silence.
The observation of silence for certain periods of the day is a common practice among all spiritual communities in the West and the East, amongst Catholics, Taoists, Sufis, Hindus and Buddhists. Silence is to be understood as having a positive value and not merely as speechlessness or non-communication. In the ritual services of all the religions silence and sound are often juxtaposed in ways that enhance awareness: the ringing of a solitary bell or the abrupt cessation of chanting suspend the normal activity of the mind, the stream of consciousness, and awaken attention to the dying away of sound into a stillness that directs awareness to the silence within, the silence between words, the silence between thoughts. This ritual use of silence enhances a sense of mystery, of reverence. This awareness that leads you to the threshold of the dimension of silence can be nurtured without intellectual adherence to a particular belief structure. There is no 'Buddhist silence' or 'Christian silence' - there is simply the mystery of silence that was present before there was anything else, before the world became divided with names and labels. Silence is primary, and thus envelops everything, being at once tangibly something and apparently nothing. It was there before sounds or words, and thus is not simply their absence.
It is in the realm of silence that the three processes of connection, empowerment and liberation can flower unfolding one from within the other in a non-linear fashion from within the depths of relationality which is the active dimension of silence mindful practice will enable you to enter.
There is a tendency in modern society to be profoundly uncomfortable with silence: an awkwardness that is sensed the moment a conversation finishes and nobody knows what to say next. And yet there is a relation between speech and silence that has always been understood, and which finds expression in poetic language. Today when there is an almost total absence of relationship to this dimension of reality the sudden absence of noise or words can create an anxiety filled discomfort, which is simply that element of your nature you have chosen to ignore making itself felt. If you don't run away from it, but sit quietly and focus on this sensation you will feel the dimension of silence inviting you to explore the depths of a vast realm of interiority that is the silence at the heart of the world.
Your corporeal being is the physical element that resonates to the mystery of silence, the centre without a circumference that resonates within to the fathomless depths of the soul, and without to the cosmic silence of the universe, uniting both inner and outer as the intelligence of wisdom centred on the heart. The experience of silence in this sense is revolutionary. The confusion that drives you to seek distractions within the contemporary world of commercialized noise is the knowledge of the power of the mystery of silence that you have suppressed without knowing why you do this. Your task therefore is to engage with a practice that will harmonize your being within the being of silence.
The Tao Te Ching speaks of The Great Way: 'It flows, circles, flows and circles. And it has no name.' The sage Lao Tsu, reputedly the author of the Tao, speaking of silence wrote: 'The ten thousand things rise and fall while the Self watches their return. They grow and flourish and then return to the source. Returning to the source is Silence, which is the way of nature.' In other words when the mind's attentiveness is attuned to silence there is an effortlessness to any action accomplished, which is the way all things flourish when no force is applied externally to produce a premeditated result. Our results obsessed culture in its state of disconnection breeds anxiety through seeking surrogate goals in ignorance of the deeper wisdom of the Tao.
But to see yourself not as separate from but as part of this Way encompassed by the realm of Silence requires a change of heart, an immersion in silence, an indwelling where non-dual awareness dissolves the delusional boundaries the mind creates to avoid seeing itself not as something that necessarily resides within you as a private possession, but as something that grants you access to a vaster realm within which you are situated. This you come to know when awareness works through you, rendering your identity transparent, and when action and agent are no longer separate and you find you are immersed in a greater intelligence informed by a creative dynamic. This is nature’s intelligence coming to light as the manifestation of the sacred dimension of life flowering in awareness.
In this way such an action, where no residue of self-consciousness remains to objectively assess the action and its result, is in harmony with the natural sphere of what the Tao names wu-wei. In the natural order of wu-wei it is not passive non-interference that defines non-action but the dynamic state of unselfconscious non-dual action whereby you are one with the act without attachment to the fruit of the action. In this sense it is not the dualistic self that acts but the Tao, as the Way of natural spontaneous order, that manifests as your self through the act and which at heart is characterized by stillness that is ever renewed as it effortlessly flowers as activity, so that by non-action everything flourishes freely and it is as if the task at hand somehow accomplishes itself.
The way the modern world is structured almost everything we do is based on assumptions quite contrary to the wisdom embodied in the Tao: the imposition of will, the will to achieve, to coerce, to extract information or materials, to produce a result, to bend nature to our will to fulfill our needs. The irony is that it is the natural sphere where wu-wei occurs that is being destroyed due to the culture being so divorced from nature that it can only be viewed as a resource or a complex web of life forms programmed by evolutionary mechanisms that must be understood so it can be manipulated and controlled for the benefit of human desires. This is the outcome of the delusion of the separate self and the false dichotomy between human and non-human realms. The overcoming of this alienation is a heuristic rather than a cognitive process, for it cannot be convincingly sustained by a detached cognitive appraisal, since this realm is conditioned to suffer from the repeated self-inflicted doubt it is trained to within the closed circuit of its logic. Only by relinquishing the cherished anthropocentric view by which all value is subjective, by seeing that what you have been seeking you never lacked since by letting go and falling into emptiness, you can realize, as the Zen master Dogen realized, that your mind is ‘nothing other than mountains and rivers and the great wide earth, the sun and the moon and the stars.’
To some this may sound mystical, idealistic or impractical, such is the power of the indoctrination into the ideology of separation and dominance. But the fact is that we live immersed in silence, within us and without us, though we are generally unaware of this in a world full of noise. It is there all the time. We emerged from it and we will die back into it. And while we are here most of what keeps us alive takes place beyond our awareness, and at a level entirely involuntary. And so to explore the realm of silence is a practice intensely practical, for it is nothing less than to reconnect through the body's sentient capacity for resonance with the rhythm of life itself. There are copious writings on this subject that encourage an identification with the realm of silence that create a false sense of participating in a spiritual practice without entering the deeper realms of resonance that are necessary to an exploration of how you can reorient your life to experience a more constant presence of silence at the heart of the everyday world. In other words due to the present conditions of society when you initially accept the invitation that silence holds out, you may discover such a hunger for it that you will seek it with the already conditioned habit of ambition which will naturally be counterproductive. The gifts of silence are not a distant goal pursued by the will to achieve. Entering silence implies the total abandonment of that mentally conditioned approach, the letting go of all drivenness, of the obsessive stream of thinking. Therefore an entry into silence must begin with generosity of the heart, and with humility before the dimension within which goodness can flower. The art of meditation is not to create a pool of tranquillity to temporarily escape the anxiety and noise of the world, but to explore the fathomless depths of silence so the presence of silence becomes a constant factor at the heart of everyday life whatever your circumstance.
Silence, if you are not used to it, or if you avoid it, can also make you aware of your fundamental emptiness, your aloneness, when you are not distracted by noise. The modern world bombards the senses with a constant stream of sounds and images (visual noise) to such an extent that many people would find it very difficult to remain for any length of time in a situation where silence prevailed. With nothing to distract them from the emptiness, the void at the centre of their being, they would experience anxiety. In solitude one comes face to face with the silence at the heart of the world.
Thomas Merton, Trappist
monk and prolific author of books on Solitude and Silence, suggests that without exploring the dimension of silence you cannot attain to full humanity. Merton recommends ‘living in a silence which so reconciles
the contradictions within us that, although they remain within us, they cease to be a problem.’
The first step in meditation aims at the creation of an inner stillness, an interior silence. You can speak and act out of confusion and noise, out of conditioned perceptions and opinions. Or you can speak out of silence, a deep state of receptivity and harmony. The aim then is to acquire the ability to get in touch with that inner stillness, and allow it to expand, to create the spaciousness necessary to include the pain and joys of others, to value their being, their frailties as much as your own. For this space to manifest requires a certain non-attachment. This non-attachment allows the attachment to inessential self-absorption to fall away. It is the opposite of detachment that creates a defensive wall that has grown out of unacknowledged anger or a fear of intimacy and the buried feelings it would resurrect, and which encourages isolation and alienation. Non-attachment creates a healthy distance that is inclusive not exclusive.
Silence lies at the heart of meditation, an ineffable realm of relationality both complex as the source of unfathomable wholeness, and yet subtle in its qualitative richness when we can approach it with simplicity, when we have let go of the things we become attached to as substitutes for its life-giving creative energies, something mysterious, not something to be attained but part of the profound mystery of the earth we inhabit.
Robert Sardello, in his unique exploration of Silence, writes: "When we engage in the practice of Silence, we are going to the heart's consciousness. We practice living within the activity of feeling, not the activity of having feelings but of locating the centre of our consciousness within feeling. Heart consciousness and feeling are equivalent to each other. In usual consciousness, feeling is more vague than the clarity of thinking, but in heart awareness this is reversed. Feeling becomes intense and clear, while the cognition that is present does not dominate. We come to these revelations concerning the heart and Silence not by theorizing but from the immediacy of experiencing. It is possible to develop the consciousness of the heart. In doing so, we are able to enter into a remarkable intensity of Silence and become aware in a far more concentrated manner of the creativity, the healing, the devotion, and all the other qualities of Silence spoken of thus far. Through practices of the heart we become not just partakers of the gifts of Silence but also spiritual creators within this realm. We approach this awesome possibility with greatest reverence and humility for it is a creating act of our soul-spirit rather than an attempt to use the Silence of the heart to make something happen. Entering into the heart is a practice of entering the miraculous."