“Seldom do those who are silent make mistakes.”
It was by accident that I ended up writing this blog in O Five Tea Bar on Fourth Ave. It is a fitting setting as the other customers are either silently working or silently reading. The staff too, go about their business with the quiet diligence of monks.
Silence can come in many forms, it can be deep and oppressive, it can be heavy like a thick, dark blanket, it can be thin and unwholesome like the silence of a lie or the silence of inaction. It can also be strong and true, like it is in here right now, like it is after a strong Om or like a winter forest when the snow settles on the world to give it the perfect finishing touch.
Some things are best enjoyed in silence, like the tea I am drinking. You almost need the quiet to fully understand it, to fully appreciate it, as if the flavour whispers and it will disappear into the background unless you listen carefully.
I read a blog recently about a lady who managed to get a private audience with the successor to the Dalai Lama. He asked her if she had specific questions. She did not and so they remained in each others company and enjoyed the silence. It was a silence which required nothing else. There was no need to break it with mindless chatter. They shared the silence.
Silence encourages stillness. I am almost afraid to pour my tea too quickly for fear of adding an unwanted flavour to the quiet of the room. As if a movement too vigorous will create a ripple which will disturb the stillness.
Some of us are afraid of silence. We step into an elevator with somebody and take out our phone rather than share the silence. We plug in to the screen, the earphones, the podcast, the music, whatever it is, we use it as an exit system to flee the quiet stillness and rush out into the lights and sound, embracing it with open arms, wishing to be swallowed up by sound and colour.
It distracts us from our discomfort but there is no strength without discomfort. We put on a soundtrack that drowns out the whisper that tells us “something is wrong.” We don’t listen to the small voice inside us. We don’t get to know ourselves, like the parent who tells the small child to be quiet and behave, but the child is scared. The parent does not know because the soundtrack is too loud.
How many times when you were in school did your teacher tell you to “pay attention”? How can we pay attention when we do not know how too? We have never been thought these skills yet we are expected to have them, even though these abilities are being pushed further and further away from us every day.
A friend of mine once said, that if he had the opportunity to do anything in the world without the chance of failure, he would change the world. As Leo Tolstoy says “Everyone thinks of changing the world but no one thinks of changing themselves.” “Change yourself”, according to Nick Seaver’s TedTALK, “and you will change the world.” We are our own environment. Change ourselves and we change our environment.
Become still and let the mind settle, like the white powder flying about a snow globe.
Falling leaves in autumn, finding stillness.
That is where we learn to pay attention. There is power in silence, the power to learn, the power to forgive, the power to change the world. Change yourself and you will change the world.
How many earth shattering decisions were made on a whim, thrust out from a blinding flash of anger rather than forged with patience from a still mind.
Viktor Frankl‘s life was ruined in Nazi Germany, his family killed, his dignity stripped. He felt the emotions but he did not fall into them. “Between stimulus and response,” he said, “there is a space. In that space is our power to chose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” What Frankl describes is the power to change the world. This power lies in the pause, the silence. The power lies in the gap before stepping forward. The bridge in the road, before continuing the journey.
This is the power of silence. The power to change yourself and in turn the power to create a change greater than any of us have known.
This will open our minds to let us hear the undercurrent that tells us where we need to be. The candle light in Time Square is drowned out by flashing neon lights but it is still there. We just need to find it.
Through silence we can chip away at the surface and find our true selves. The reactive self is not the real self. The true self or the soul, as I like to think of it, is underneath and cannot be seen because the reactive self has encompassed it. Take the time, take the pause. Step away and listen.
John Francis spoke about his 17 years of silence in his TedTalk and it was on the Ted radio hour where I heard him say it was only after months of not speaking, that his mind began to settle. The waves took many months to settle after the storm.
It is ok to stop. We do not always need to move. We do not always need to fill the space. The sound of om consists of four parts, the final part being the silence.
In conclusion, I would like to encourage you all to sit in silence. Start small but be consistent. Invite the silence into your life like an old friend and see what stories it will tell you.
“Don’t just do something, sit there.”
I hope you enjoyed reading this one. If you did, please share it.