The Rain Lord, Indra, King of the Devas, the bright-beings, came beating his thunder drums and wetting the world.
Rain is everywhere and it has turned cold. When I awoke, though it was a cloudy morning, there was a trace of warmth and it seemed that it would be another warm day. But by mid-morning, the weather changed. Now, Winter has come.
In northern India, the cold weather comes only two months a year, and the people here do not take many precautions to fend it off. None of the homes nor buildings have central heating, and the passageways between buildings are for the most part open to the elements. My cottage is not warm. The lovely cream colored tiles on the floor are cold as the air. I have a little space heater that blows warm air and heats one room enough to be able to sit comfortably, so long as I am wrapped in sweaters or covered in blankets.
This is perfect for me because I am engaged in a yoga practice that requires no activity other than sitting still. I spend a good part of the day inside doing this.
I’m practicing silence. Superficially, this means not talking, and it is much more than this. Practicing silence means not only silence of the mouth, but quieting all the noise and activity that normally fills the mind, so that the soul can be experienced. There is a treasure buried under the habitual agitation of the mind, and discovering this treasure requires changing one’s mental environment. The noisy mind is like a muddy pond after a rain, when one cannot see the bottom. But when the rain stops and the pond is still for a while, all the mud settles and the water becomes clear. Then the bottom can be seen. In the case of mind, the bottom is the soul, and when the pond of the mind becomes clear, the illumination of the soul shines through.
My meditation teacher, Swami Veda Bharati, unlike me and probably 99.9% of the rest of the people alive at this moment, has the habit of a quiet mind. Because of this, he can hear his intuition, and when he says something, it comes direct from his soul, and this is why his words have such immense impact. When he talks, people listen. I’ve experienced this countless times. He enters the room and everyone gets quiet. He speaks and people are inspired and want to learn. He doesn’t cause this effect because he is clever and a good marketeer. This happens because he speaks from his core, which, according to yoga, is the core we all share.
A week into the practice, I had managed to stop talking except for a few times when, unthinkingly, words erupted from my mouth before I realized what happened. Although quiet in this way, the narrator in my mind continued unabated in his constant comments, editorializing, critiquing me and others, and all the other things he says. Also, I’ve done too much communicating with others through writing and sign language. So, my silence thus far has been partial.
One evening, in his talk, Swami Veda Bharati began explaining that silence means more than silence of the mouth. I imagined he was letting me know that I had a long way to go. It was a surprise when he pointed me out to the others, telling them that I was practicing silence, and that when I arrived my jaw was tense but it had relaxed and that he was pleased to see this. So, perhaps he was telling me I had a long way to go, and letting me know some progress has been made. I felt encouraged.
The practice of silence is both easier and harder than I thought it would be. It is easier because there is a growing stillness and feeling of peace within me, and this motivates me to keep going. Oddly, as I see people talk here at the ashram, they seem mostly to talk about nothing. Really, little communication seems to happen in those conversations. Mostly their talk appears to be a way to fill time and space, and to satisfy a habit of talking. In thinking about it, I know this has mostly true for me over my life. In yoga, it is said that the natural state of a human being is silence, and I am becoming a believer.
Practicing silence is also harder than I thought it would be. Communicating has been a big part of my life, and I am finding that this habit, like any habit, has a natural momentum and tendency to stay in its usual grooves. Pulling out of these grooves requires effort and discomfort. My mind, accustomed to being distracted, wants to stay that way, and quieting is kicking up emotions. It’s a lot like fasting: Although the body can go for days without eating, after just a few hours without food I’ve often experienced some irritation with the practice and an urge to break the fast and have a good meal.
The resistance to the silence practice has taken various forms. Sometimes I’ve seen people talking and felt left out. Other times, I’ll see someone I like and want to have a conversation. Occasionally, the resistance has been more subtle, such as wanting to think or read, and fill the mind in doing so. A couple of times I’ve felt that the practice is just too hard and stupid and questioned why am I doing it anyway. These are the same types of reactions that I’ve experienced when eating less, trying to lose weight, except in this case, I’m consuming less mind candy instead of physical sugar.
When the going has gotten rough, it has helped me to remember that I am practicing silence to be more in touch with my core and experience peace of mind, which is what pretty much everyone wants. But peace of mind can only be had by cultivating peace of mind; by letting go of the constant agitation. Practicing silence is a direct way of experiencing this peace, and remembering this gives me strength to persevere.
Another help comes from the meditation practice I’m doing simultaneously with this practice of silence. This is what Swami Veda Bharati advised: Both silence and meditation. The silence allows the mind to settle, and the meditation literally pulls the mind into stillness.
Earlier today my mind was heavy with storms, and I was feeling both angry and sad. I sat down, breathed and focused my attention on these emotions. After a few minutes the emotions seemed to expand, like balloons blowing up bigger and bigger until suddenly popping. When that happened, I took a big breath and let out a huge silent sigh. The emotions were now much diminished. Then I started the meditation, remembering the mantra Swami Veda Bharati gave me, repeating it over and over in my mind. As I listened to the mantra, waves of calmness and feelings of well-being washed over me, and the remaining heavy dark emotions vanished, leaving an inner brightness and sparkling happiness.
Outside, the rain continued during the day. Then Vayu, the Lord of the Wind, whipped in and blew the clouds away, revealing the brilliant sun and clear sky that were there all along, yet previously obscured.
Over the following days, several storms came, both inner and outer, and, then for a time the clouds parted and the brilliance shined through. Encouragingly, the clear times have been growing longer.