My first meditation retreat lasted five days. It was a silent one. The only words spoken were the thoughts in my head. I never understood the value of silence until the five days were over and I was back, integrated into real life mode.
It was a Vipassana meditation retreat where, for five days, I attempted to see things as they really were. The Vipassana technique is one of India's most ancient meditation practices, taught for thousands of years as a way to treat universal ills. It involves moment-to-moment awareness of the here and now, observing the mind and body with full attention. Five days of being silent with focused awareness allowed me to see the way my mind worked. The silence allowed me to be with the truth of what was happening, letting go of the way I wanted it to be and how I thought it should be.
Unfortunately, big-city life is not silent, and it wasn't long after I returned before I forgot my new-found truth. My once-focused attention split in a million different directions. Life suddenly became noisy again. I tried to turn the volume down by maintaining a daily practice of meditation and sitting in silence, and it helped immensely.
Here are four ways you can integrate silence into your life:
1. Cultivate your "beginner's mind." Beginner's mind is a concept taken from Zen Buddhism. In the beginner's mind, possibilities are endless because any preconceptions are let go. Beginner's mind involves having an attitude of openness, eagerness and lack of judgment. When we tap into our beginner's mind, we are more present and open to our true nature.
2. Spend time in nature. There is nothing more healing than the sounds of nature. Spending time in nature's silence better acquaints people with their own thoughts and feelings. From gardening to a walk in the park, finding time each day outside can reverse the pent up stress from a busy day.
3. Schedule a media fast. As hard as it may sound, getting offline and disconnected is what will actually connect you. Allotting a certain time each day or week, when you are free from all electronics, will jump-start a profound inner silence.
4. Nourish yourself with silence. Taking time each day, where you are quiet and do not speak, can help reacquaint you with an inner-equanimity. For the most part, the meaning of silence is not evident in pop culture, so creating it will take a little extra effort. Sitting quietly in the morning is a perfect way to start the day.
In a noisy society where everyone is scrambling to be heard, silence is really golden. But living in constant observation of self requires constant attention, integration and balance. It is something I work on daily.