I started doing yoga asana (movement) 15 years ago largely to avoid silence. Whenever I attempted to settle into the quiet of meditation or prayer, my mind assaulted me with memories of past negative experiences just dying to surface, with pervasive thoughts of the endless number of tasks still on my list, or with random thoughts about every car starting or bird chirping outside my window. Focusing on my breath or a word or phrase helped a little, but most of the time I ended the practices in exasperation.
Exhausting my body’s excessive energy was the only thing that helped me settle. But, even then, I did not much enjoy Svasana, the final resting pose that typically ends a yoga asana class — largely because of the aforementioned onslaught from my mind.
For a long time I almost entirely practiced physical yoga poses. Eventually that gave way to my interest in training for and completing in triathlons. (That subject is for a whole other blog post.)
As I — and my practice — aged, I came to need something else. Rest. Part of that rest became silence. I’ve written before about the evolution of my meditation practice in the past five years. Now, resting in silence is almost as natural to me as anything else. I now rarely turn on the radio when I do short drives in the car, craving instead a little lower stimulation experience of driving. I do mostly quieter, restorative physical yoga practices at the studio. (In part because I am still training for triathlons.) When I take a morning walk, I intentionally go without headphones plugged into my phone.
This is why I resonated with, but was still challenged by the On Being podcast’s recent interview with Gordon Hempton. An acoustic ecologist, Hempton has recorded thousands of natural sounds, many of which are collected in the Smithsonian Institute and other such places. He has recently become a silence activist, pointing out that there are only about a dozen places remaining in the United States that are not invaded by modern, mechanical and urban noise. Check out this podcast that interweaves his discussion of his work and activism with the amazing nature sounds he has recorded over the decades.
So, the notion that I (or any of us) are ever actually in silence is a false one. But, we can make room for less stimulation (putting away phones, computers and other noise-producing devices). We can make time for being in nature, surrounded by more nature sounds. We can make time for not talking, like taking a silent retreat.
If you are just starting this kind of practice, you may experience what I did in the beginning — the mind bombarding you with random or unpleasant thoughts. Here’s a little secret — that’s OK. Allowing that quiet space to give your mind its necessary time to churn through whatever ails it, is a good, healing thing. The quiet of meditation allows us time and space to heal our wounds, relax our worries and get comfortable with ourselves. Then are able to notice sounds and sights of the natural world that’s always bustling around us — even if you live in an urban area.
Do you want to make space for more silence? I can lead you through this in Self-Care Coaching in which I can guide you through developing a mediation or other self-care practice that helps you embrace silence. Learn more about it at my upcoming free webinar at 12:30 p.m. ET Oct. 15. RSVP now, even if you can’t make the actual time of the webinar. I’ll send you a link of the recording if you can’t make it in person.