The Sound of Silence

A few years ago, I was new to New York and full of love inside yet I didn’t know very many people yet so I was feeling rather lonely. One Friday night I went to the Open Center because a wise Rimpoche was coming to town. She was going to give a talk and lead a meditation. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I knew that the enlightening was supposed to begin at 7pm. I was propped up on my seat and ready to go – eager to get my spiritual buzz on before meeting some friends to go dancing. 7:20 rolls around and I’m still sitting there, quietly, with everyone else, but I’m starting to get pretty aggravated. Something about sitting in that room, silently, with all of those people I didn’t know made me feel even more lonely. 7:30 arrives and there is still no sign of a great teacher walking into the room so I’m starting to get anxious and impatient. 7:45 pm and I’m beyond restless and even feeling quivers of anger.

All the while I’m still sitting there, waiting, and no one around me could tell by looking at me just how disrupted I felt inside (or at least I don’t think so…)

7:50 rolls around and I open my eyes and all of a sudden it’s as though I am 80 years old. I start to laugh at my 25 year old self. I say, “enough already! Would you just relax!” And I knew I had somehow, in that moment, broken through some sort of time/space continuum to arrive at this moment when the elderly Joyce could have a good laugh at herself as an impatient young adult. A quietness took over my mind at this point, a patience I had never known before, and a thought that maybe in fact life is long.

I’m convinced that the teacher was late on purpose that night. By requiring all of us to sit silently in meditation before she even began talking we were able to finally sit and be present with our own thoughts. It is hard to actually make time to sit with oneself for 10 minutes let alone an hour! By having this time to sit and listen or bare witness to our own thoughts we were in turn capable of being much more present to the teacher.

I’ve come to think of silence not as an absence of sound but as the space that holds the potential for sound. A silent mind is one which may be full of knowledge but is not so firm in opinions that it has lost its plasticity. To truly listen to someone mustn’t there be some silence within? If someone is explaining something to you and in your mind you are thinking of the next thing that you are going to say, or thinking of how what they are saying is similar to things which you already know – then are you truly listening?

I love the anatomical composition of the ear – especially the snail looking coil inside the ear canal. It’s remarkable to me that we have these little vibration seekers on the sides of our heads, which pick up the unique and distinct oscillations in the space around us and then make sense of the little tremors via the synapses in our brains. What I like to do in my practice to cultivate some silent space is turn the focus of my ears inward. When I practice breathing Ujjayi Pranayama I make the quietest, whispered sound that I can make in my throat and still hear that there is a sound. When I am doing this I feel as though I am in a sacred space. I feel as though the quietness of my breath is guiding me. I am able to still listen to the guidance of a teacher’s voice, but it is as if the sound of silence coming from my breath can hold the space for any other sounds and nothing could possibly be a distraction from simply being in the present moment.

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About Joyce Englander

I teach weekly yoga classes in New York City, which focus on moving mindfully and gracefully with the breath. I believe that learning yoga is similar to learning a language, and the more you are around it the more fluent you become. This blog is an opportunity to share my thoughts and re-visit lessons from class; to create a bridge for students to translate their classroom experience into real life. I am interested in how practicing yoga can help to improve people's lives and reduce needless suffering.
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