Silence, Solitude and Meditation

Silence is something I have valued extremely highly especially since I encountered meditation and the tranquillity and solitude a good retreat can bring. It is in these periods that I am able to reflect with more clarity, and give space to whatever it is I feel I need to work through.

However, in this world of ours, silence does not seem to be valued particularly highly. It appears rather that we are rushing ever faster to fill the silence or solitude with busyness, chatter, music and whatever else.

There are very few places that you can go that are immune from some kind of sound, either natural or a result of human activity. Living by a city such as Newcastle for instance there is most of the time an underlying buzz, however quiet. One notices a difference when one spends a while in remote countryside, where the natural silence of the surroundings contrast heavily against the noise of the city.

It is not uncommon for us to feel refreshed after spending some time outdoors, alone or with others. Just an afternoon relaxing in forest surroundings, or at the bottom of our garden can help us maintain a healthy perspective on our lives.

After experiencing extended periods of silence and solitude, we can however become highly sensitive to the harsh sounds that city and suburban life can bring. Travelling home from a retreat in Scotland a number of years ago, I remember being acutely aware of the trundle of the train as I travelled toward Edinburgh. It felt harsh and aggressive. However, we have largely become acclimatised to such sounds, and whilst we may argue that they don't affect us, perhaps on a subtle level they contribute to a sense of unease.

Whilst we do not always have the luxury of deep solitude and extended periods of silence we can, through mindfulness meditation, cultivate an inner stillness. In the practice of observing the play of thoughts, emotions and other sensations in our experience, we can begin to notice an underlying silence. Much like plunging beneath the waves on a stormy sea, we find a calmer and quieter place under the layers of our experience.

This silence is both stable and reliable. No matter how tumultuous our lives can be, we can trust that we can make contact with this aspect of our conscious experience. From this place of silence we can observe our thought patterns, our emotional responses to experiences, and our bodily sensations. We can begin to notice the habits of mind that, for example contribute to our on-going anxieties.

How can we bring more silence into our daily lives?

- Find a space in the house or garden, or even in the local environment, where you know you will be left undisturbed for a period of time. Use these spaces or places routinely to bring silence into your life, even if for 5 or 10 minutes.

- Set up a place in your home or garden where you can go to for meditation each day; again, a place where you can find peace from daily disturbances.

- In meditation, begin to notice the background of stillness in your experience. Observe how thoughts, sounds, feelings and sensations arise into this space and fall away again. Connect with the stillness as a foundation for your practice.

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