Silence – Save Your Breath and Live Long
23 March 2009
At some point in one’s spiritual progress an urge to silence arises uninvited; a wave that carries the mind self-wards, atman-wards.
In all spiritual traditions the aspirant is assigned periods of silence, not to speak of the masters who have maintained total silence for their entire life-spans.
Silence is not merely an absence of speech. It is a fullness of the mind; the mind filled with the flow of an energy stream rising from within. For such a silence one needs guidance, because there is a science to practicing silence that many are not aware of.
It is in such methodical and guided silence that one’s pent up emotions do not keep arising and disturbing one, bringing one to tears now, to laughter then, and to an urge to quit the retreat or the Ashram and just run away (this happens after the third day of the retreat to many participants). The guide to the silence retreat takes care of the problem from within the Tradition.
Silence is the practice of the science of self-healing even if one is not impelled by a strong spiritual urge. Let us look at it this way. What is speech, physically speaking? Place your open palm in front of the lips and speak a few sentences. You will find that speech comes in the form of erratic bursts of breath. Speech is jerky breath. It means that when we speak our entire internal system is being jerked, the lungs, the heart, the blood pressure, navel centre, and diaphragm muscle (the chief breathing organ of the body), not to speak of the mind itself. Quite rightly, then, when we want someone to stop talking we say in English: Save your breath! Don’t waste your breath!
Silence is the art of longevity. The human life span is not measured in years; it is measured in the number of breaths allotted karmically. How long would one live? It all depends on how quickly, by fast and jerky breathing, one may choose to spend out one’s allotment. Or one may spend it slowly and invest a major portion to cultivate even a deeper silence, to have yet more to invest.
The science of silence, a guided silence, includes man)steps, for example:
- Using the breath to enter the state of mental silence;
- Calming the emotions so that the urge to speak may not arise;
- Using silence for self-healing so-that the energies commonly leaked in the process of speech may be absorbed, assimilated, channeled.
For example, unless one learns to breathe without a jerk, one cannot enter into silence. Mastering the pause between the breaths not only leads to kevala-kumbhaka (see Swami Veda Bharati’s Commentary on the 2nd chapter of the Yoga-sutras, II. 51). It
- leads one into deep interior silence;
- Makes one a conqueror of the forces of time;
- Grants the mastery over death.
But how does one master the pause between the breaths? That is for a silence and meditation guide to teach. A Silence Retreat with Swami Veda Bharati includes
- Hatha in a meditative context, guided by his assistants (see his book: Philosophy of Hatha Yoga;
- Guided meditations, so deep that hours may pass without one noticing the passage of time;
- Time for pranayama;
- Spiritual journaling;
- Contemplative walk, guided as to the different methods (see Swami Veda’s booklet: Contemplative Walk.
- Learning the rudiments of the science of sleeping: for example, not entering from wakefulness into sleep through the pathways of fantasies and reveries but through meditation; not emerging from sleep through tossing and turning but through the channel of the meditation state.
A silence retreat is not for learning “techniques”. Oh, would someone write a book about the correct technique for smiling, after full scientific investigation of what hormones are released when the lips are stretched quarter of an inch on both sides as against half an inch (need a control group, right?)! Write the book if your ambition is to make all smiles vanish from the earth. Techniques and methods are boats that have to be left behind after a certain river crossing – only for now the boat is needed. A silence retreat is for sadhana, intensive spiritual purification for progress.
The ideal silence retreat for a serious practitioner begins at ten days duration. Make it twelve days; one day for arrival; ten days for washing the mind’s fabric in the infinity stream; twelfth day for departure. Often, a teacher may increase it to fifteen days. Quite often at our Rishikesh Ashram, when a novice arrives with the intention of intensive sadhana, and asks for his personally tailored program, s/he is told: no schedule for three days. Just sleep, exercise, walk, sleep again; get all the fatigue out of your system, otherwise you will sit for meditation and nod off or will tie for shava-asana practice and will snore. One carries enormous amount of fatigue in the body besides all the emotions that we store in our muscles. All these need to be rinsed before one can meditate.
A silence guide embraces the participants into his/her own field of silence, and becomes a channel for the grace that ever flows from the ancient lineage of the Himalayan masters.
Swami Veda Bharati,
Disciple of Swami Rama of the Himalayas