The Beauty of Silence
3rd June 2019
The Beauty of Silence by Emma Glover
I first met Suryacitta on an 8-week mindfulness course almost five years ago. I arrived at the first session in the Kuti (meditation room) feeling depressed, angry, anxious, miserable and as though I was crazy.
I left that first session thinking that actually, he was the crazy one. I could not get my head around anything he said. He spoke of the ‘jewel in the ice’ – that ultimate happiness or contentment we all strive
for but rarely find, and suggested most of our problems are in our heads…that my well-used defence for being ‘mental’ (“It’s just the way I am”) wasn’t true and that any genetic or physical predisposition to mood issues didn’t have to determine my emotions, feelings or behaviours.
Gradually, as I started my mindfulness practice, and let go of my innate critical nature, I realised everything he said was true. I had that moment of realisation where I just ‘got’ it - once you start noticing your thoughts, you realise that what goes on in the brain is not who you are, it’s just thoughts – electrical brain activity. Our thoughts do not have to define us if we just let them go.
After 8 weeks, I was noticeably a different person. Well, I suppose the point is, I was the same person all along but just lighter, happier and more focused on the present moment.
I’d love to say I’ve stayed like this for five years but good habits are so hard to stick to, unlike all the naughty ones that cause us so much grief. I have never forgotten anything Suryacitta taught me, and I have phases of being dedicated to a mindfulness practice, but then I pack it away in a box of forgotten ‘hobbies’ in my mind. This is not the way to do it by the way and Suryacitta would tell me to ‘just do it… just sit’ – but I know it’s very common for many people.
So I meditate now and then, or I meditate for weeks then I stop. I meditate when I’m sinking, and wonder why it is so hard. In the last six months or so I’ve been to two of Surya’s day-long ‘sesshins’ – these are based on the Buddhist tradition of taking periods of intensive silent meditation, a silent retreat, in other words. I didn’t really know what to expect the first time and this always brings with it anxiety for me, but as soon as I arrived at the Kuti (meditation room), I felt as though I had come ‘home’. There are around 10-12 people at each sesshin, and initially upon arriving, we chatted pleasantly and made small talk, as is the norm in these situations. As soon as we were in the Kuti, Surya told us that from now on we were in silence.
I thought it would be difficult, but actually it’s very peaceful to just give up that human assumption that we need to talk to each other. There’s no awkwardness or pressure to speak socially. We were all existing in one space, brought together by a shared interest but from many different backgrounds. We shared the odd smile and moment of eye contact occasionally. But the focus was not on how to act, who to sit with, what to say to people - which is such a relief. The focus was solely on meditating and being in the present moment, and challenging oneself to do this for many hours. This sounds more daunting than it is, and actually the day is split into 20 minutes of meditation, followed by 20 minutes of silent ‘free time’, which people spent reading, sitting in the garden, resting in the Kuti or playing ball with the beautiful dogs. Suryacitta spends a few minutes before each meditation, talking, teaching or sharing a reading, which really helps us learn a little more about Buddhism and mindfulness.
Each meditation section was challenging, because meditating isn’t easy – it’s learning and practicing a new skill. It’s like training the brain, no matter how consistent your daily practice. Initially, I was pumped up and raring to go, thinking “I’m gonna be ace at meditating today, I’m really going to be an amazing meditator… this is just what I need right now”. That lasted about, er, 60 seconds. Then other thoughts took over and they went like this:
“this is so hard, why can’t I stop thinking? why don’t I meditate more? I couldn’t meditate yesterday because I was doing yoga… I really need to be a yoga teacher – I must start researching this… actually my back hurts a bit sitting here, maybe that’s from yoga, Liz at work said her back was hurting the other day… I have that meeting at work next week which I’m dreading…”
And on it goes until suddenly I remember I’m supposed to be meditating: “Oh! Right, concentrate on my breath, come back brain”.
I kept bringing myself back to my breath or my body and enjoying those little gaps of silence, calm and stillness in the room and in my head, where my brain stopped buzzing and jumping from thought to thought. Each little gap, every moment of pure radio silence was heavenly. Unless you sit, stop and find silence sometimes, taking notice of your thoughts, you never feel or recognise any gaps where you are pretty much not thinking anything. These moments don’t last long for me, but they remind me why I need to meditate more, because I really enjoy not feeling like my head is going to explode.
On my second sesshin, another challenge was to not fall asleep. Several other people mentioned at the end of the day that they too had to resist nodding off. Put 12 (probably) stressed people in a warm room and tell them to sit and do nothing and their bodies and minds go, “wow ok, this is nice, I have been dying for a rest”, and inevitably there will be some sudden slips and jerks of the head as we try to avoid slipping into a much-needed nap. I think it’s just the sense of relaxation and peace that meditating in the Kuti brings.
It’s amazing how quickly time goes by when you’re doing very little. I didn’t want the day to end. It’s safe and calm in the Kuti and I felt much lighter when I was there and when I left. I found it really hard to start talking again when I got home, which makes me think silence is an overlooked part of human nature that we really must include in daily life more often. I went back to the craziness and noise of family life with a toddler, jumped straight back into mum-mode, but I was inspired by the experience of meditation once again. My days at the sesshin definitely reignite my mindfulness practice and I vow each time to meditate every day and make it a permanent part of life. I am reminded that I’m definitely not crazy, and that silence is beautiful.
Tagged as: Emma Glover, mindfulness courses, silent meditation retreats
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