For almost 10 years I lived in New York City. As you might imagine (or know), it’s a place of continual activity and constant noise. After a while it becomes normal, but at first, it’s shocking.
No matter where we live, our minds are generally bombarded by a continual stream of thoughts, digressions, interjections and distractions. It’s as if we ourselves generate enough constant chatter to fill a city and to prevent us from feeling focused and relaxed, even when we’re trying to fall asleep.
Silence is a great ally. Here is what quiet has to offer you and how to make friends with silence.
Practice Mauna (Silence)
Whether it's a quiet place in the wilderness or a secluded corner of your favorite museum, find a place where there is very little (but not nothing) going on. Allow your ears to become receptive to all the different sounds you do hear.
They might be insects, animals, airplanes, voices on the other side of a wall—whatever they are, practice allowing those sounds to come to you without seeking any particular sound or becoming attached to it. This practice is called mauna.
(In addition to the following benefits, here are 5 Life Lessons You Learn By Staying Silent.)
Hear Pranava (OM)
As everyone who has been anywhere truly quiet knows, silence is, in fact, rather loud. In silence, we are better able to hear the great vibration of pranava, the roar of joy that is the continual creation of the universe. In the same way that you don’t need to seek sound in the mauna practice of listening, there is no need to create the sound of Om (also referred to as pranava) that is ever-present beneath all sounds.
The sound beneath all sounds comes to each person differently. There’s no need for you to hear or describe it the same way as anyone else. The important thing is to learn to hear it. First, practice in silence. With time, you’ll be able to hear it at any time, regardless of the noise around you.
Benefits of a Silence Practice
Supports Your Meditation
The breath is one tool that is present wherever we are. In spite of this, it doesn’t always feel accessible. For those times, or any time, we can call upon our training in listening to silence.
The practice of receptively listening, without attachment or the desire to construct anything, is a support for meditation that doesn’t need to depend on mood or whereabouts. Once we have learned to listen, we can listen anywhere, anytime.
One of the most important dimensions of the practice of yoga is the cultivation of one-pointed focus. Naturally, distraction is the opposite of the ability to effortlessly focus on one single point. Our lives as yogis are made more challenging by the reality that we live in a world designed to seize our attention at every turn.
Though distraction is typical, it isn’t pleasant. Notice that each time you see yourself distracted. Focus is not only "better" (whatever that means), it is also more pleasurable.
Overcomes Samskaras (Habits)
One of the great rewards of a yoga practice is the ability to pause. We learn to interrupt our own habits, take a moment to consider, and then consciously choose a course of action, rather than fall victim to our habits, or samskaras.
Once we get accustomed to hearing it and to associating it with a balanced, deliberate state, we discover that we can hear the sound beneath all sounds in every situation. In the breath after someone we love has said something hurtful or confusing, at a work meeting, in a moment of anger—the sound of silence is everywhere, inviting us back to our balanced center.
As we grow less dependent on distraction and more confident in the presence of our own attention, we are able to uncover and tame habits of chatter in mind and speech. For many of us, the static in our minds comes out also in our speech. With time, you will likely notice that you feel less compelled to fill space with speech, giving the words you do choose to have more weight.
(Are you finding yourself Lost in Noise? Find Yourself in Silence and Reboot Your Connection With the World.)
You might also notice that the habit of creating static also sneaks into our activities. Practicing listening can help us to be less afraid of empty space. There is an expansive quality to choosing actions rather than feeling them imposed upon us.
Continue to Listen for the Sound Beneath All Sounds
Many of us wish to reach deeper states of contemplation. When we decrease our reliance on chatter and other distractions, the path opens naturally, without force. All that is required is continual application of effort.
Continually listen for the sound beneath all sounds. Rather than check your phone in the grocery store line, listen. Observe when you’re choosing noise as a distraction, and see what happens if you release that distraction for 10 or 20 breaths and focus instead on listening.