Exploring Wisdom: The Three Ingredients of Attention
I’ve made it my mission to demystify meditation. You don’t have to have a particular religious belief to find moments of sanctuary, or to nourish and feed yourself in mind, body, and spirit. My journey is ever-expanding, ever-evolving, just like yours is. It’s like a lotus that is blooming continually, revealing new petals all the time. My quest is to go deeper.
Seeking common ground
I’ve studied so many spiritual traditions, and throughout my life, I’ve always tried to find the common ground they share. I think it’s where we enter in from–whether you’re looking to lower your blood pressure, create peace on the planet, increase your immunity, or be a better listener, we’re all coming to spirituality through similar doors.
The first ingredient: willingness
What I’ve found in my studies is that there are three ingredients to the majority of meditative traditions. The first ingredient to a successful meditation practice is your willingness to do it. The willingness is born out of frustration, or desperation, or out of a deep and heartfelt longing.
The second ingredient: attention
The second ingredient is gentle, non-judgemental attention. But what do I mean by attention? Who is paying attention, and to what?
Turn your attention right now to the one who’s looking through your eyes. To the presence that’s beaming through your eyes, listening through your ears, that’s right here, right now, dwelling in this body of yours. Try to find that presence.
You are in charge of deliberately paying attention. No one can pay attention for me. No one can harm my attention for you. People can certainly try to steal your attention, but it’s your job not to let them. We are distracted all the time, and we must reclaim our attention again and again and again. The only way to peace is to be completely in charge of where and how you focus your attention.
The third ingredient: technique
The third ingredient is where technique enters in, whether you’re paying attention to a sound, a sensation, a visual element. It could be a candle flame, or the night sky. It could be the sound of the wind in the trees and over the red rocks. Or, it could be some sound you hear in your own body, your heartbeat, your breath.
You can meditate anywhere
Meditation is a solitary practice. Of course, you can find a place where you’re stable and comfortable, where you won’t be disturbed, where you can really lose track of time and space. But you can also meditate anywhere, anytime, or on anything. When you harness the power of your attention, you can access it at any time.
Sarah McLean considers herself an American Transcendentalist. She’s dedicated her life to exploring meditation: living as a resident of both a Zen Buddhist monastery and a traditional ashram in India, as well as living and working in a Transcendental Meditation center. She headed up the education programs at Deepak Chopra’s center in California and Byron Katie’s School for the Work. Sarah is a best-selling Hay House author of the books Soul-Centered: Transform Your Life in 8 Weeks with Meditation and The Power of Attention: Awaken to Love and its Unlimited Potential with Meditation. She’s also a sought-after speaker who is determined to create more peace on this planet by helping people wake up to the wonder and beauty of their lives and the world around them through the practice of meditation.
Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!
The Practice: Creating a Home Meditation Space
Recharging your body and mind, improving your focus, and boosting clarity are all great reasons to meditate — but what if you could improve on what you’re already doing?
What if you could create the perfect meditation space in your home?
Carving out a private enclave for meditation doesn’t have to be tough, whether you’re living in a studio-sized condo or a spacious estate with a dozen spare rooms you’ve never used. With a few simple tips, you can transform any space into a private nook where you can disconnect from daily stresses, internal dialogue, and negative experiences.
What is a meditation space?
A meditation space is a sacred spot where you can release stress, find serenity, and center yourself. Sacred doesn’t necessarily mean religious or spiritual; in this context, it means you only use the area for meditation, yoga, rest, or stillness. It’s your own personal retreat within your home, and you can designate a corner, a partitioned space, or even an entire room to it as long as you feel good about your choice.
Exceptional spots for a meditation space in any home
This is your space, so there isn’t a one-size-fits all spot that works for everyone. Ideally, you’ll be able to walk through each room in your home and narrow down your choices to rooms you absolutely love — those that make you smile, relax you, and give you a sense of peace. As you search for your perfect meditation space, be mindful that:
- Facing a southeast corner will bathe you in early morning light, which may be perfect for dawn meditation.
Facing a northwest corner will let you bask in the sun’s waning rays, which ould be ideal if you’re an evening meditator.
- Facing due east emulates Buddha, who sat beneath the Bodhi tree and meditated directly toward the early morning sun.
Where to meditate in a small home
If you don’t have much room to spare, a terrace, patio or corner of a room in a condo or townhouse might be the perfect spot to set up your meditation space. Add a privacy screen or hang billowing curtains from a single point on the ceiling to shut out the world while you connect with your inner self, or clear out a closet for instant (and expense-free) privacy.
- Although it’s tough to find spare square footage in a condo, apartment or studio, you can make extra room by:
- Swapping out your sofa for comfy chairs
- Installing a loft bed in a room with high enough ceilings
- Storing non-essential accessories and furnishings rather than trying to cram them all into your space
- Using wall cabinets rather than freestanding bookshelves in your decor
Where to meditate in a more spacious home
Create your private paradise in a quiet corner, in an enclosed room or the garden to find your inner peace. One of the keys to successful meditation is carving out a distraction-free environment where you can get comfortable.
Spots to avoid
Steer clear of high-traffic areas or those where distractions are likely to pull you off the path to Nirvana. Try to avoid the kitchen, the living room, or anywhere too close to the lavatory, the front door, or a space that faces the street. Your home office may drag your mind toward work, and a place that makes you want to nap rather than meditate, like your bedroom, might be a little too relaxing.
Meditation room ideas
The more peaceful, relaxing, and beautiful your meditation room is, the more time you’ll want to spend there. you’ll feel it pulling you in before you start your day, each time you need a break, and when you wind down for the night.
The perfect room decor in a meditation space
Designing your Zen meditation space for self-help and personal development requires you to stick to a few principles:
- Keep your space clean and clutter-free.
- Only include items you love and that contribute to your happiness and peace.
- Add natural elements where possible, such as living plants and stones.
The bare essentials
You don’t have to dedicate an entire room and a month’s salary to creating your meditation space. The simplest — and sometimes most effective — meditation spaces feature only bare essentials, such as:
- Meditation cushions or a soft spot to sit
- Natural light
- Something with personal significance, like bells, crystals, or affirmation stones
- Fresh air
If you can, spring for a serene color palette in the room. Neutrals, which are the most popular (think earth tones and off-whites), are what you’ll find in monasteries and professionally designed meditation spaces, but here’s where you can make it interesting. Dark colors make a room feel smaller, which is ideal if you want to feel enveloped in your space, and pastels lend an airy, open feeling to any room, which could be perfect if you prefer a sense of freedom while you meditate. Bright, glossy white that produces glare is generally off-limits, though, because it’s too harsh for the serene environment you’re trying to create.
Pro tip: If natural sunlight hits the wall and makes you squint, the paint color is wrong for your meditation space.
Your meditation room can be as simple or elaborate as you want it to be. A few carefully chosen elements can turn any space into a soul-nourishing haven. Consider adding decor such as:
- Attractive incense burners
- A fountain for the sight and sound combination
- Singing bowls
- Decorative cushions
- A Zen sand table
- Aromatherapy diffusers
- Adjustable lighting
- An altar
Bare wood floors can add a sense of authenticity to your meditation room, and they can make the room appear (and feel) larger – but they’re not necessary as long as you have the proper posture. A plush area rug or tatami mat on top of carpet can carve out a private space where you can meditate, practice yoga or rest without costing you a fortune.
The best plants for meditation spaces
Most people find that having at least one living plant makes a huge difference in the quality of a meditation space. They’re essential for pulling volatile organic chemicals out of the air and allowing you to commune with natural, earthy elements. Plants that thrive in low light and contribute to Zen include:
- Monstera Deliciosa
What not to put in your meditation space
Few things are more distracting than clutter, so your meditation room needs to be light on things that can counteract your Zen. Avoid electronics (the TV has to go!) except for music players or electronic aromatherapy diffusers, and banish toys, paperwork or other distractors that will prevent you from connecting with yourself.
Bonus tips for the perfect meditation room
- Buy plug protectors in case you’re tempted to bring in electronics (other than that music player). They serve as a gentle reminder that technology is unwelcome in your space.
- If your window has a bad view, use Japanese rice paper or privacy glass decals to shut out the world without compromising your natural light.
- This room is your escape, so nothing that pulls you back into your everyday existence belongs there.
What’s your dream meditation space like?
With a little planning and a dash of inspiration, anyone can create a spectacular meditation space — and we’d love to hear about what you’ve already done. Share your story in the comments below!
by Alejandra Roca. This article first appeared on Redfin.com
Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!
Walking the Path: 10 Reasons Why Spirituality Matters
The word “spirituality” means different things for different people. For some, spirituality is associated with religion and is tied to concrete rites and rituals. For others, meaningful activities like swimming, making art, and walking through the woods brings on a spiritual experience. For the most part, though, the word spirituality has become as ambiguous and vague as the word “the,” and is often stigmatized by associations to “hippy-dippy” new-age philosophies, patchouli, dreadlocks, and yoga pants.
Spirituality seems to have become confused with religion, as it is common to now associate as “spiritual” or “not spiritual”. However, at its core, spirituality is a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves, and is not an ideology to believe or not believe in. Spirituality is, in fact, what gives life a sense of meaning and purpose.
Walking the Path: Four Things I Wish I’d Known Earlier About Silence
When I started becoming interested in meditation at 16, I was eager and young, with no experience in silence. I wanted to find inner peace, and so I found some books in the local library to start my journey and quickly began experimenting (I owe some gratitude to my patient mother who put up with all of my experiments). Here are four things I know now that I wish I’d known then.
This sounds like common sense, right? However, youthful enthusiasm tends to overpower common sense any day.
Before you enter into silence, I encourage you to get on your phone, call or text your loved ones, and let them know that you’ll be unavailable for a few days. If you’re shy, you can tell them you’re on vacation (you are). But why be shy? Silent retreats are almost now de rigueur.
When I was young, I did the opposite and told my mom nothing, simply going into silence for 24 hours. Keep in mind that I was still living at home – I went into silence and stayed in silence, despite the knockings and inquiries to know just what exactly was going on.
It was a small house, and a little silence apparently went a long way.
I explained to my worried mother the next day that I had simply gone into silence for 24 hours. She put on her best patient-but-annoyed tone to ask me to tell her before going into silence the next time. Lesson learned.
I’m passing on this advice from my mother to you, dear reader, just in case your loved ones/colleagues/boss would be distraught if you disappeared without notice for 3-4 days.
Getting a Map
It’s worth investing in guidance about the silent journey. It’s an amazing journey, and very rewarding; like all journeys, it also has potential pitfalls.
We use a map when we embark on a physical journey, for example, to visit Ireland or California. We even use GPS just to drive across town for groceries! However, when it comes to the inner dimension of our lives, which is even more subtle and unclear, often people take a DIY approach and try to figure it out on their own.
Sure, you can just figure it out, but it might take years of trial and error. Or you could get lost. You could also, in theory, drive across Los Angeles at night in search of a new address without a map; it’s going to take much longer and be far more frustrating, though.
After experimenting with silence a number of times, I tried a guided silent retreat. It was spectacular. Finally having some guidance about how to go into silence, what to do (and what not to do!) during silence, and gaining support along the journey made all the difference.
There is a history of silent journeys and a collected wisdom that is invaluable. People have embarked on this spectacular inner journey for millennia, and it’s not so easy to embrace that knowledge and learn from it. Why reinvent the wheel?
Joining a silent retreat is tapping into this accumulated experience, essentially downloading Google maps for your inner journey.
Ease Into It
There are two approaches to silence: you can either go cold turkey, or ease into it.
I chose the first option. Many people choose the first. Some silent retreats even choose the first.
Jumping into silence cold turkey can be like jumping into ice cold water – surprising, unexpected, shocking. Going in gradually worked much better for me. There are specific processes designed to help your mind slowly enter into silence. Easing in minimizes the overwhelm factor.
We’ve spent our whole lives talking and being immersed in our environment. When we turn that off, it can lead to a wonderful experience of inner stillness, centeredness, and energy. However, if we turn it off too fast, our thoughts can overwhelm us. So go slow. Again, appropriate guidance at a silence retreat can help you ease yourself in.
The Experience Ripens with Time
My first silent retreat was so much better than that first experiment in silence. Each silent retreat has been better still, and I’m going on my 14th – yes, it’s that good. Silence is something that matures with time. Our sensitivity increases, our ability to watch our thoughts increases, and gradually, the experience of inner peace deepens.
A friend shared this thought with me on the last silent retreat we did together – “I didn’t think this could be better than the last one, but it was.” So don’t give up. Even if your first foray into silence isn’t exactly bliss.
There’s no need to worry about silence and plenty of reasons – inner peace, self-discovery, and renewed energy, to name a few – to try it out. Like any journey, it has easy routes and winding ones. I’m grateful that after some trial and error, I found an easy way.
Interested in learning more about silence? Curious about how silence can enrich your life? Check out one of our upcoming Silent Retreats!
Interested in learning more about programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here.
Exploring Wisdom: John Osborne on Finding More Silence
In a world that seems to get noisier every year, more and more of us are looking for a greater experience of silence in our lives. Although prayer and meditation have always been seen as traditionally effective methods of deepening silence, there are other ways to find it in the midst of a busy daily routine. Most of them are available to each of us if we know where to look for them.
Seeking Out Silence
Traditional forms of physical exercise, particularly yoga and martial arts (Tai Chi etc.) in addition to stretching and strengthening the body, have the added effect of bringing the body and mind into a state of balance and stillness which can open us up to an inner experience of silence . Introductory classes can be easily found these days in local fitness and community centers.
Various forms of music have been found to create more brain coherence, which in turn allows the mind to drop into its deepest, most silent state. These might include traditional forms of chant, choral, devotional or classical music. Experiencing that music performed live seems to have an even stronger effect.
Reading books that are uplifting or in which you find knowledge or insight can help the mind settle. While one part of the mind is engaged, another is freed to rest or quietly observe. Likewise writing, especially in a journal or to someone you feel connected with, can empty our mind of thoughts and feelings, allowing it to experience more of its deeper more silent nature.
Wearing earplugs when socially appropriate or listening to white noise or nature sounds through headphones may allow a level of interior silence to rise within us, especially in noisy work or public environments.
– John Muir
Walking in Nature helps many people to tune into a deeper level of silence …. In the words of of the naturalist John Muir, “I only went for a walk and finally concluded to stay out ’til sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” Even for those of us who live in an urban area, a few minutes walking in a park or on a walking path can ground us and return us to that deeper experience… running or jogging also works in this way for some people.
See if you can find places where others have sought silence and go there to sit, even for a few moments. Look for public gardens, parks, churches, temples or even libraries if they have quiet reading areas. I recently found a great deal of silence in the middle of an art museum. And finally…
Create your own silent space… find a few minutes or hours each week when you can turn off your cell phone and the TV, shut your door and see what it feels like not to talk or listen to outside sounds for an extended period. Start modestly with maybe 30 or 60 minutes of silence on a weekend day, then see if you can schedule it to be a regular part of your weekly routine, and gradually build up the time you’re able to devote to the practice.
Why do we have to work at developing an experience of silence? In earlier days silence was a much greater part of everyone’s daily experience. Before electricity, telephones and televisions, many people’s home hours were filled with silence and in agrarian societies daily work was often solitary and and at least intermittently silent. It is only in the past 100 years that the noise level of our common experience has begun to rise dramatically. To balance out all the noise and activity in today’s environment we may have to cultivate some silence in order to lower stress levels and give ourselves a chance to rest and recharge.
Scientists have discovered that brain wave activity radically changes in silence. The parts of the brain that govern creativity and inspiration become enlivened, and the areas of our nervous system that get overstimulated by stress and outside stimulae have a chance to rest, de-stress and recharge. Silence isn’t just an outer experience. There is actually a deep level of our own consciousness which is always silent. Nurturing that level of our inner life and restoring a balance between silence and activity in our consciousness can deliver great rewards on the level of body, mind and spirit.
Go inward and find your silence at one of our Silent Retreats.
Interested in learning more about programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here.
Art of Silence: Philip Fraser on Stillness and Alignment
We recently caught up with Philip Fraser, who has been teaching the Art of Silence since the early 1990s, to talk about the power of stillness and alignment. Philip offers his insights on letting go of distractions, becoming more present and aligned, and channeling balance and energy through the practice of stillness.
Being in Alignment
If someone is out of alignment with themselves, and therefore harming their own system, chances are they’re going to be insensitive to others around them and to the environment as well. But when we’re in alignment, we are sensitive to our own nature and to the world around us. Alignment starts at an individual level – so how do we get back into it?
Children are completely in alignment with themselves. They know when they’re tired or hungry; when they’re upset, they cry, when they’re happy, they laugh. There is no filter, no interruption between the emotion and the action. This is our natural state.
To re-align yourself with your experience, you need to allow yourself to experience your feelings and process your situations like a child would. In this way, you give yourself an outlet, which in turn gives you a degree of separation after the fact. You have already experienced a reaction, so these problems don’t have the chance to take over your mind later on.
Of course, we need to have the ability to perform socially in order to exist in the world, and that means we can’t cry whenever we feel like it – but this often leads to a complete disconnection with ourselves, and we can’t seem to reconnect.
A very simple way to process these feelings, to come back into alignment with yourself, is just to practice stillness. Not just physical stillness, but mental as well. You’re giving yourself a break.
The average person never stops. We are inundated with external stimuli, and are trained to be constantly multitasking. Not many people will feel comfortable sitting quietly or focusing on one task anymore – you see it in airports, for instance. Nobody is content to just sit there. We are constantly involved in some form of activity.
One of the many results of this constant activity is the inability to comfortably fall asleep. We don’t feel like our minds are capable of settling down at night.
Nature works in cycles – you have day and night, light and dark, winter and spring, and at the root of all of these, dormancy and activity. Your mind and body need that stillness, that silence, to properly rest.
I illustrate this with an analogy of a bow and arrow. If you want the arrow to fly far one way, you pull it back in the opposite direction and let go. Instictively, we know this, but nowadays it’s hard to find the time and place to slow down, turn off our cell phones, and spend time with nature and with ourselves. The silence course gives us an opportunity to do this.
Releasing Thoughts and Emotions
Stillness rejuvenates us, it allows us to release our thoughts and feelings by experiencing them. We tend to deal with emotions by experiencing them briefly, then putting them away and claiming we’re fine. But these emotions don’t go away – they become dormant, stored inside of you. And so many of us just leave them there, or dwell on them, neither of which are helpful strategies.
The silence retreat helps us to realign ourselves in a formal way, through meditation and focused attention to the breath and body. During meditation, we often, without even trying, work through those old dormant emotions.
This doesn’t mean that you need to re-live traumatic events, or have a breakdown – it’s just, very simply, a time of letting go. There is definitely a degree of separation when you are observant of your feelings – “This is how I’m feeling right now”, or “This is what’s happening in my thoughts”. This awareness is enough to release those emotions, to send them on their way. It is a bit of a challenge, because we are not used to being alone with ourselves, facing ourselves like that. But it’s transformative.
Another way of realigning ourselves is to realize that we are, quite simply, pure energy. For example, kids have so much great energy, and they spring back so easily from every emotion. That fluidity, that flexibility, is our nature. Our nature is to be diverse; our nature is to have a lot of varied emotions going on at any given moment.
At some point, we start to deny any negative thoughts or emotions within ourselves. We strive to only feel happiness. But can you imagine going to a movie and watching people being happy for two yours? It would be torture! We enjoy, live, and thrive on the full experience of life, the dark and light. It is what makes us whole.
To learn more about Silent Retreats, click here.
Interested in learning more about programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here.
How Silence Saved Me
Silence is intimidating and hard to find in a world that is busy, loud, and chaotic – and this is precisely why it is necessary. Kavina T., a recent participant in our Silent Retreat and an Art of Living volunteer, recently shared her experiences and thoughts on this life-changing course.
I’ve been doing this kind of inner work since 2010. I do skin care for a living and have a very intimate relationship with all of my clients. They ask me, “How come you’re so calm?” They want to know. And when I told them I was going to do a silent retreat and they went wild. They asked, “You‘re really going to be silent for a week? You could choose to go anywhere and you’re going to go be silent?”
I told them, “Oh yeah!”
There’s a lot of resistance to silence. People, my brother-in-law included, think that it’s not very much fun, and there’s also a fear that they’ll lose their freedom somehow – people are sometimes afraid that they’re going to have to subscribe to some dogma. But I’ve found silence is a practice that brings such freedom in life.
Silence Over Shoes
At the beginning of the retreat, the instructor asked me what I’d like to gain. I said commitment. I tend to get really involved, then I’m like, “No, I don’t want to be happy. I’m going to go do other things.” Really destructive things. But then there comes a point where I realize that that is not who I am and not where I want to be. Coming back to the practice of silence reminds me that I am peaceful, I am calm. The silence of who I am is always here, it’s just that we cover it up with so much distraction, and I’m good at distraction – I like shopping. I love shoes, but this silence wins over shoes.
Domestic Violence and Silence
I’m a survivor of domestic violence, so I have a lot of post-traumatic stress. It’s hard to get quiet sometimes, and my first experiences of silence were characterized by a lot of emotion. I had so much anger that I wasn’t able to express to my abuser, and it was scary. It was scary to be by myself. It was scary to listen to my thoughts and even scary to be sad. When you’re trying to survive, you don’t get to be sad. You just have to survive. But even though it was difficult, I was hooked because silence gave me a glimpse into what life could be like for me. Peaceful.
Finding Stillness Amidst Chaos
The silence really made me think about how busy and bold our daily lives are. How much talking there is. I got a chance to observe that, which was great. In our daily lives, we don’t see how everybody is coming at us, how bold and big their personalities are – we’re all just hitting against one another. It was nice to just get quiet and observe that rather than participate in it, and to realize that it’s still possible to find stillness in a busy life. You can still hold onto the joy and expansion stillness gives you.
There’s just nothing like the Art of Living, and there’s nothing like silence. There’s nothing that can bring you what you are looking for outside of yourself – whether it’s shopping or whatever else you do to try to cope, none of these things can give you what silence does.
If you are interested in learning more about our Silent Retreats, click here.
Art of Silence: Philip Fraser on Broadening Your Vision
Philip Fraser has been teaching the Art of Silence since the early 1990s, and has seen hundreds of people transformed by the program. Recently,we spoke with Philip about his observations, and how the Art of Silence can help purify and streamline the human system.
The Scariness of Silence
Silence can appear scary to some people. There’s an association of silence with emotional upset – for instance, we commonly see silence in those who are traumatized, those who are mourning. Sometimes someone will think someone in silence is angry with them, when that’s just not the case. Silence can be joyful and fulfilling.
When you go into silence, a few things happen. You start to really appreciate nature. Generally, we hold the silence course in a place where you can go on nature walks and start to notice how nature resonates in your own mind.
Most people think that being in silence means that you’re totally alone –that the only way to connect with others is through talking. But we find that practitioners often feel much more connected with the people and world around them when they slow down, when they’re not distracted by verbal conversation.
When you go into silence, you also start to notice what’s around you. You notice what’s happening in your own system, in your mind and body. And it can be a revelatory experience.
It is certainly a challenge to spend time with your own mind, with your own thoughts. That part of silence can take some getting used to. In this day and age, we are surrounded by noise, interaction, entertainment at all times. And this is an avoidance technique – without that distraction, you are hyper aware of your mental state. You have to be present. And it’s uncomfortable.
Broadening Your Vision
Sometimes your mind can fixate on the negative situations you encounter. When you’re happy, however, it’s not as if that situation disappears – but you have learned to put that situation into context by widening your vision.
For instance, when you’re standing next to a pile of garbage, it doesn’t feel good. You might feel gross or uncomfortable. But if you take a step back, you might notice that there’s also a tree. And then a mountain. And then a beautiful scene opens up before you, and the entire world is beautiful, even if there is a little garbage.
When Energy Stays With You
Speaking takes energy. Being active in your senses at all times takes energy.If a computer had to do what you do, it would need a huge battery to process all that information.
Deep rest, which we experience in this retreat, gives you the chance to purify and balance yourself naturally, which means that the energy will stay with you long after you leave the Center.
It’s an energetic, mental cleanse, a release. It’s not difficult or uncomfortable, but you’ll notice it when it’s happening.
A True Vacation
In this course, we honor our need for true rest and rejuvenation, which is especially important in this fast-paced society. Silence gives you a break from so much mental activity –the mind gets to quiet down for once.
With the addition of yoga and meditation bring your attention back to your body and your breath, which creates a tremendous amount of energy in your system, strengthening your life force itself. It’s a battery charge, so to speak, and participants often report that they still feel the effects of this retreat six months later.
To learn more about our Silent Retreats, click here.
Walking the Path: Why Silent Retreats?
Recently, in the midst of a Silent Retreat at our Retreat Center I sat down with John Osborne to talk about the practice of silence and what value it adds to our lives. John shares from his practice and his years on the road leading silent retreats in North America and abroad.
Some of the courses that I enjoy teaching the most in the Art of Living are our residential silent retreats. People come on the silent retreats from a world of noise. Except for maybe brief periods of meditation (and sleep!) most people rarely get to experience silence. Especially here in Boone, there is a great opportunity for interior silence because there is already a strong foundation or environment of exterior silence here in the mountains. Right from the first day of the course I see people start to settle down as soon as they go into silence and they begin to experience themselves at a deeper level.
What is the value of silence?
John: There is a wonderful quote from the early Christian church that says there is only one great teacher of prayer and meditation and that’s the Holy Spirit and the only language that the Holy Spirit speaks is the language of silence. So there is a lot that happens on these silent retreats; it’s a kind of knowledge and connection transmitted without words and it’s extremely valuable. People discover things about themselves, about their relationship to other people, about their relationship to the universe and it’s a really rewarding thing to be able to assist people in that process. Silence also gives our participants a deep rest on many levels…a physical rest of course, but also a rest from the thousands of small distractions which most of us have to deal with every day. The mind takes a deep dive and discovers its infinite source in that silence.
Why does that happen in silent retreats, that we are able to discover more about ourselves, rediscover our relationship to other people, and our connection to the universe?
John: Because in our day and age the stimulus from outside is so great and unrelenting. The internet, cell phones, a twenty-four hour news cycle, the kind of activities people jam into their day when they are always with their family or they are working long hours or whatever, pull them constantly outward away from their source. Even when they are in their car they are usually listening to the radio or they are sending or receiving something on their cell phone. The outside stimulus especially now in the modern world is so great that even if there was some silence happening on an interior level, the senses are moving outward all the time and people won’t be able to easily experience it. So silent retreats are the first time for a lot of people to be able to experience deep silence within themselves and it’s like a tonic, you see them resting better, you see them feeling more contentment; a smile may actually appear on their face. It’s a wonderful transformation that happens. I think it’s a healthy and essential experience for any human being to have and this environment on the top of this mountain is ideal for it because the outer atmosphere is so silent, so pristine and so full of the experience of Nature, and also all the necessary tools are already in place here: yoga instruction , meditation techniques, breath work, certain kinds of sound therapy and music to assist in people being able to experience a deep level of silence right away, a holistic spa and health center to help balance and rejuvenate the body. Many of my students have told me that they experience an enormous increase in energy in just 3 or 4 days of the silent retreats so that they leave really refreshed, renewed and quite often very transformed.
Can you tell us a little about the history of silence?
John: I think people lived in earlier times largely in silence. Before electricity, before radio, before television, people went to bed when the sun went down and they got up when the sun came up and there was lots of silence especially in agrarian societies. I worked on a ranch in Colorado earlier in my life and I spent 8-10 hours by myself outdoors largely in silence. I was working as a ranch hand and I think that type of experience was normal for most people, that kind of life, in earlier times, but then the industrial revolution and electricity and radio and television came along and with people moving into cities, that aspect of silence was lost. But in both the east and in the west, within these ancient spiritual traditions silence was highly valued and people gravitated to live near ashrams, spiritual communities and monasteries. In Europe for that very reason, a thousand years ago, whole cities sprang up around monasteries because the monks kept silence and the ordinary people honored that value of silence a lot. Similarly in Asia, in the villages especially, even now people still very much value the wandering monk or the sadhu or the Buddhist that comes and begs at their door because they are holding that value of silence not just for themselves but for the whole society. It’s a very important experience to have available to us, one that is increasingly rare and that’s one of the greatest values of this place not only for people who come here but for the whole society…. It’s extremely important that there are places set aside that people can still experience that. That experience anchors and reaffirms one’s very humanity and it strengthens the human values in society as a whole.
How does the atmosphere here help support Silent Retreats?
John: This place was designed right from the beginning, to nourish in a deliberate way the experience of silence and meditation. Architecturally the way the buildings are designed, the way the courses are structured, the way the food is prepared, all of that is with one end in mind; to bring people closer to that deeper part of themselves. So when you come here everything is all set up, the rooms are in place, the food is conducive to being in silence, the courses are already designed and set up at various levels, introductory or advanced, for people to just step in and even if they have only 3 or 4 days, almost immediately they drop in and begin to experience that deep value in themselves and then they carry it with them back out into the world.
Every year more people are discovering this place, and there is a reason for that. Retreat centers, monasteries, places where people can go for silence are becoming increasingly popular because as the world grows smaller and things are moving faster, there are a lot of challenges that are coming up for people. Terrorism, environmental degradation, natural disasters and all kinds of accelerating changes confront people and they need the resources deep inside to be able to deal with these and they don’t find them often in their everyday life. This experience is kind of an antidote to all that noise, to all that change so that people can not only connect deeply inside themselves to something which is unchanging, but in those deep places they can begin to find solutions to a lot of their challenges in life and can also begin to contribute to solutions to some of the world’s larger problems. So,this community, this mountain top is a kind of a fertilizer or an energy source not just for the people who come here but potentially for the whole world.
Originally posted on Avahanam