I once read a quote that said, “Silence is golden… unless you have a toddler. In that case, silence is very very suspicious.”
Have you ever experienced great solace in the deep silence of night, for example? Especially in a place abound with nature. There’s an inexplicable freshness in the air. You feel the quiet and balmy winds blowing against your skin, you look at the silent starlit sky, you hear the leaves quivering gently, artistically. Most of the world is sleeping but you are awake in this blissful silence. It is almost mystical. Everything you witness fills you with serenity.
This is the bliss of silence.
All forms of realization and wisdom dawn in silence like waterfalls do in rains. The purpose of meditation is to silence the mind to a degree so it stops chattering inside you. As the voices in the head quiet down, you see everything in a new light. Having said that, as I wrote in the opening quote, the silence of a toddler can be very different compared to the silence of a yogi. By toddler, I don’t mean a real child who’s scribbled on your walls or put your phone in the bathtub when it’s full of soapy water and bubbles. I mean the mental equivalent of a child — a restless mind.
Walk with me today, for I’m expounding on a very subtle matter: the nature of silence. If I’m able to help you understand the four shades of silence, you will know all there is to know about meditation, serenity and tranquility.
When a restless mind goes silent, it doesn’t always experience bliss. Under most circumstances in fact, it becomes melancholic. And this is the first shade of silence: negativity. Depressive and sad thoughts grab hold of a silent mind when it has nothing to do. In negative silence, your mind is not really quiet. It’s actually experiencing sadness and strangely, it finds a certain relief in that somberness. It pulls you deeper and deeper into your negative state and you feel like shunning each and every one in your life. Of course, this is temporary. This is the silence of a restless mind. It’s the suspicious silence of the toddler. He’s playing with your wallet (after tearing up the currency notes, bending your bank cards and chewing your receipts — all smeared in his drool).
Positive silence on the other hand makes you feel good about everything. You feel upbeat, optimistic and assured. You get this surge of energy which, after a short period of silence, propels you to get up and act. Silence of this nature is important because it kind of recharges your batteries and you are ready to rumble again. It’s like the toddler has momentarily gone and sat near the window watching the traffic outside. The wallet has lost its charm (the leather doesn’t taste good anymore) and soon when he’s bored with the traffic viewing, he’s coming back to get his hands on something else. But, the child is happy and giggling. Temporarily.
Sometimes though, and it is rare, your silence is neither positive nor negative. It’s not optimistic or pessimistic. It’s not neutral either. Instead, it’s deeply spiritual. It ends in that aha moment, you are struck by a sort of epiphany. By the time this phase of silence is over, you know something more than you ever did before, something different to whatever you knew up till now. You emerge a newer person. This is the mystical form of silence. The truths revealed by Jesus, Krishna, Muhammad or Buddha emanated from this silence. It was in this spiritual silence that Einstein came up with the theory of relativity or Newton the laws of physics. And it is mystical for this very reason: you discover something that changes you forever. It’s almost like a new you is born, as if your universal consciousness just showed a glimpse to your individual existence. That’s not all though. There is more to silence: the fourth type.
It is so simple and evident that you may even miss it. There’s a popular Zen saying, “Before realization: mountains are mountains and waters are waters. During the awakening: mountains are not mountains and waters are not waters. Post realization: mountains are once more mountains and waters are waters.” And this basically is the fourth shade of silence.
It is just silence. Non-judgmental silence. Objective silence. The fourth type. You look at the stars, moon, rivers, waterfalls, mountains and trees beholding their beauty in every pore of your being. Brimming with the bliss of life, you are simply a spectator who is watching the magnificent play with a sense of dispassionate involvement. You are there to enjoy, to be, but nothing binds you. Nothing can. For what you have in you is the silence of freedom.
When it comes to silence, positive is not the opposite of negative. Instead, the opposite of negative is silence. When your mind is full of true silence, you are left with no room for any fears and negativity.
One philosopher said to the other, “So you actually believe that there are no absolute truths?”
“Are you sure?”
“Absolutely!” he replied.
When you experience silence beyond its shades of positive, negative or mystical, you rise above absolute theories and opinions. You realize that life can do without judgments and rigid beliefs. That, you don’t have to hold on to anything. That, on the eternal journey of life, you are simply a traveler. You may act like a tourist sometimes, but mostly you are a traveler. A recurrent traveler across myriad lifetimes. We all are.
Silence is the way of Zen. There’s no coming or going, there’s no seeking or attaining. No milestones or itinerary of a tourist, simply the adventure of a traveler. Enlightenment is your progression to the fourth shade of silence.
Life is full of contradictions, paradoxes and conflicts. And life seems to be okay with it. It certainly is silent about it. That’s life. That’s Zen.
P.S. In 2016, I’m conducting only two meditation retreats for adults (one in Canada and the other in India). The first retreat is in Canada in May.
90 spots left. Click here for details. Registration closed. Waitlist open.