Sound of Silence

By The Spiritual Explorer | Published 12 June, 2015

Dear Spiritual Explorer: I was listening to Simon and Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence and it made me think how I need to retreat and find my own silence. I however am a bit afraid that I won’t be able to last very long in silence. Gretel Z., Northport, FL

The Sound of Silence

Sound of Silence:

Hello darkness, my old friend,
I’ve come to talk with you again,
Because a vision softly creeping,
Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence.

Dear Gretel: Interesting, isn’t it, that when we think of something, there is a song that sometimes appears in our awareness. In our case, it sounds like the desire for the sound of silence is beginning to call you.

There are many insight meditation retreats available, perhaps not so many during the summer. They call for silence for sometimes extended periods of time, far longer than you might have thought yourself willing to accept or surrender to. Some silent retreats ask that you not even look at your fellow participants and keep your eyes cast down. That can be sometimes difficult for people. And if you need to talk, you are to limit your conversation to the most necessary speech, such as, “Where’s the bathroom?” “Where is the hospital?” or “I just broke my leg.” Only kidding.

One of the groups which was held at Kashi Ashram even asked the participants to retire very early, rise very early and our chefs were asked to serve food that was not very interesting and quite bland. But we aim to please and we saw at the end of the silent retreat, these people seemed to be quite radiant and emitted a feeling of peace within themselves.

Sound of silence similar to koan

When we talk about the sound of silence, it is kind of like a koan. What exactly is the sound of silence? It’s similar to asking what is the sound of one hand clapping. Koans are wonderful at retreats because they ask you to answer the question within yourself, not from a rational standpoint but from an intuitive knowing. Some people have claimed that the insight gained from solving a koan is similar to a sartori experience, a kind of miniature enlightenment, something to be truly valued.

Sound of silence awakens one to awareness

I think that the sound of silence might be compared to a palpable and nourishing atmosphere of stillness. At that time one’s senses can awaken to an awareness of things and persons around them to which they have previously been unaware. I have heard participants of these retreats claim a new “knowing” and ability to almost hear the “sound of silence” as they relax into the absence of noise. There is also a feeling of intimacy and connection to the outer world and nature which was never felt before.

Sound of silence challenging

Silcence can be challenging for some people at the beginning of their first entreat, especially when one associates it with lack of human contact, isolation or exclusion. The secret is to bypass those initial feelings, wait out the discomfort and embrace the lack of noise, disruption and interruptions that plague our every day life. From what I have heard however, those people intimidated by the sound of silence arrive at such a feeling of peace that they are reluctant at the end of the retreat to return to their normal lives.

Opportunities within sound of silence

Most people, however, come to cherish the silence of retreat. As people become aware of its richness, they come to look forward to the sound of silence rather than fear it.

It appears that what is most compelling is the possibility of being able to hear the sounds and sensations that were formerly closed to awareness  because of the distraction of mind and senses. It feels like an opportunity to reconnect with the wonders of nature and the universe that may have eluded one.

Best of all, there is the opportunity to finally hear that still small voice within that becomes available as we find our sound of silence. One can tune into those quieter, less sound thoughts which normally get drowned out by mental activity.

Finally, think how relieving it is to not have to listen to those imagined conversations with others, the remembrance of past conversations or just plain old talking to ourselves.As discursive thinking quiets down, the mind becomes more peaceful. As agitation decreases, desire and aversion lessen. When this inner stilling is accompanied by confidence, purity, and equanimity then the mind is said to experience the fullness of “noble silence.” How inspiring is that?

If you have a question about “the sound of silence,” or anything else, you can write me at Ask The Spiritual Explorer.

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