Monastic oddity or essential tool in contemporary self-care? Queen of Retreats asked Mindfulness teacher Gertrud Keazor of Yobaba Lounge retreat in France to tell us all about silence.
When asked not to speak, most of us experience this as an admonishment. So why are more of us increasingly drawn to retreats where silence is practiced? What exactly is silence, and why is it good for us?
It helps perhaps to investigate the no less than biblical significance of sound first and what different disciplines say about it. ‘In the beginning was the Word … and the Word became flesh’, says John in the Bible. The Mandukya Upanishad (one of the Sanskrit texts outlining the core philosophies of Hinduism) declares that ‘OM is the imperishable word, OM is the universe’ and that the OM mantra is a most practical tool for self realisation.
The ancient philosophy of the Trika school of Saiva Tantra has at its core a beautiful system of linguistic mysticism to explain the entire nature of reality, and how the impulse of consciousness travels along a spectrum of sound (ie vibration) all the way to physical embodiment and reality. Even quantum and post-modern science now agree that matter is indeed vibration, and that mind (ie consciousness) affects matter, as opposed to matter causing mind to exist.
In other words, what they all say, is that sound (audible to us or not) is the vehicle for our physical reality coming into being.
Most of us are born making sounds immediately. Traditions even cause us to slap the newborn babies to make them cry as a sign of life. Children make incessant sound. They chatter their reality into being. And whilst we’ve all been advised to say positive and kind things, the sounds of our voices themselves play a deep role in the manifestation of our reality.
In this way then, we are all instruments of the process of consciousness becoming matter. When our bodies are tense, or our energetic fields are contracted, the sounds we make are out of tune. The true nature of our souls’ songs are distorted, and not heard. And indeed, a reality out of tune with our true nature may start to manifest.
In our modern world, we are surrounded by sound – by activity, by verbal sound, and by mental sound (such as social media) – a cacophony of vibration from an untuned (ie unconscious) orchestra. It is enough for most of us to exist in a permanent state of contraction, energetic as well as physical. Our bodies have become tense and our minds a hive of anxious, ungrounded activity.
So it pays to slow down, to be quiet and to investigate. When we practice silence, we practice bringing awareness to our inner voice, to what makes us speak, and to the state of our body when we do speak (is it open or contracted?). When we get back into touch with our inner voice, we start to feel calm, we naturally slow down, and we naturally feel more vibrant and truly ourselves. This is the definition of improved mental and physical health, and why silence is practiced in almost all monastic traditions. Buddhists, for example, practice Mouna or Noble Silence of body, speech and mind. Mouna is a Buddhist concept meaning ‘measurement’ – specifically the measurement of words. Practising mouna means not speaking unnecessary words, a process which eventually leads to more meaningful and powerful speech.
From my personal experience, silence has become a delicious privilege. I make sure that I remain silent in the time just before and just after my morning practice of yoga and sitting meditation – this means that I rise in silence and stay so until I have showered, practised and had my morning coffee. It allows me to investigate, feel and explore that which arises. It has taken a while, but I can now tell the difference between my anxious mind cycling through one disaster scenario after another, and my inner voice, reminding me, that at present, none of this is happening. That I am here, and that I am able to take time to investigate without judgement that which is unfolding.
Imagine if we were all ‘singing’ in tune. Our inherent benevolent nature would be heard clearly, drowning out those few whose instruments are still a little out of tune. Our world would change.
Practicing silence, in order to investigate our true nature, is not only a wonderful tool for self-care, but is an essential practice that has the power to change our world.
Would you like to go on a silent retreat?
Gertrud Keazor runs bespoke and group retreats which include periods of silence at her delightful Yobaba Lounge retreat in France. To assist retreating and inner exploration, her formal retreats include silence each day from 8:30pm in the evening until noon the next day. When you stay in between retreats, on self-retreat or in residency, you will rise in silence and remain so until breakfast at 10am. Find out more about it or contact Gertrud from our Yobaba Lounge review.