Have you ever observed that at the peak of every emotion there is silence? Something that is very stunning takes your breath away for a moment—it makes you silent. Similarly, a painful and shocking experience can also lead you to silence. Yet, many of us have never known what may be called a conscious happy silence. It is moments of silence that bring you closer to the big mind—the greater self. Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says, “Prayer is asking God for something and meditation is listening to God.”
I was an angry, difficult kid and a rebellious teenager, infamous for picking fights. I remember lying awake at night, my mind abuzz with all kinds of thoughts, questions, fears, and frustrations from feeling constantly misunderstood and having unrealized aspirations.
November 2012: Identifying the Cocoon
Most of us do not bother coming out of our little self-constructed cocoons unless it begins to get stifling in there. I was angry, dejected, and disturbed when I decided to go for my first silence retreat in November 2012. Before then, I had never stayed quiet for an entire day, let alone five. When we were instructed about maintaining silence at all times, I will be honest with you—I panicked. I was partially comforted by another requirement on this program: I was not obliged to greet or smile back at anyone during the retreat. It was a chance for me to be by myself without the fear of being judged.
As the course progressed, I slowly started enjoying being silent. Thanks to the way the retreat was crafted, the silence was not just limited to wordlessness but had begun to seep into my entire existence. Letting go of the words had slowly transformed into the act in letting go of thoughts as well—a new kind of peace.
For the first time in life, I was meeting a new version of me that I actually liked. Despite following the rigor of the program as a first timer, I was feeling light as a feather and free as a bird. I was able to see the same world, but through a clearer glass unstained by any distorted feelings and emotions. For the first time in my life, the world seemed like such an enthralling place. I could see myself as a part of this beautiful creation and I could see that beauty in myself.
It was also the first time that I experienced nature trying to communicate with me. Every leaf of every tree is a miracle, and yet we keep searching for miracles. Once you come this close to nature, an awareness and respect toward creation becomes an integral part of your lifestyle and you will do anything to not spoil it.
It was really simple, the toxins and impressions that had long stopped serving any fruitful purpose in my life, were finally expunged through the silence. All that was left was pure beauty shining through me. (Everyone around me also noticed!) My meditations became deeper. I was feeling more energetic than ever before. My mind was peaceful yet alert. Every bit of knowledge that was shared with us on the program seemed relatable.
Increased creativity, better focus, mental clarity, improved memory and brain function, calm mind, and health benefits like lower blood pressure, improvement in biochemical markers of stress like lower cortisol and blood lactate levels, and increase in serotonin and dopamine release and improved immunity are just some of the more explicit benefits of silence.
As ironic as it sounds, being in silence also helps you understand the value of words. Words carry a lot of energy with them. After being in silence, there is a natural tendency that develops to weigh your words before speaking. Speaking consumes energy; silence makes you mindful of this simple fact. Since, many relationship problems are the result of poor communication, silence can go a long way in bridging differences.
Remember how it feels when you are exhausted and then a cool breeze grazes your cheek? We naturally tend to close our eyes when we experience a beautiful moment, because we want to be in that moment fully and stop everything else. We need these periods of silence in our lives—when we can take a break from all the worldly activities and meet our real self—to close our eyes and feel the breeze on our skin.
Post Facto: My Perception of the World Changed
Once I returned to my busy life, I wanted to close my eyes and meditate whenever I had the chance. I was so much in love with what I had experienced during the silence retreat that I wanted to keep it alive by making it a part of my daily life.
One morning it dawned on me that it had been months since I last felt angry. The situations around me hadn’t changed, I had simply stopped letting them affect me. Seeing people as me, as part of me, meant I started seeing their stories, the reasons and karmic impressions behind why they did what they did. So, I didn’t get stuck in their mere words.
A new supportive, much more bearable me—this was an upgrade I hadn’t imagined! All from a silence retreat? Yes. Possible because in our very essence, we are positive beautiful beings. We are simply covered up in toxic stress, lack of awareness, and reactivity. When we take the qualitative pause, go back to the cave of our hearts, things start to change.
Another byproduct of the retreat: I was no longer afraid of speaking in public—something had shifted inside of me. This confidence came from having had a glimpse of my own spirit, my own possibilities.
I have continued to attend silence retreats as often as possible. It is like an overhaul of my mind and body, after which I feel sharp, centered and yet relaxed.
With the pandemic raging on, I missed going to the silence retreat this year. So, imagine my happiness when the online silence retreat was announced. At first, I wondered if the experience would be diminished from one where we meditate together in person at a retreat center. When I asked a friend about her experience with an online silence retreat, what she said made so much sense.
“It doesn’t matter if the meditations are conducted virtually,” she said. “We are not just these physical bodies with you being out there miles away and me being here. Virtual programs are a great way to realize this. The experience is real and transcends time and space.” She continued, “The best part was being able to have that experience from the comfort of my home! I did not have to bother about what to wear and everything I wanted was two feet away.”
“The power of the collective is not lost in virtual sessions. The participants still enjoy blissful chanting sessions and interactive knowledge sessions. They start the silence together, meditate together, and all the activities are done together which preserves that feeling of walking together on the path. In silence and meditation, it is the universal consciousness—the big mind that presides—that is the same for everyone irrespective of where the physical body is,” she beautifully summed it up.
People talk about wanderlust, and while traveling the globe can be invigorating, traveling within has been one of the best journeys I have taken. What makes experiences beautiful is not really the place, but your state of mind at the time. It was as if all the beauty of the world had come to me.