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Thursday, 26 February 2009

Silence - the key to happiness

For some time now, my partner and I have been regular attendants at what is called an Inner Journey group, which meets every Wednesday in the village in which we live. This is loosely based on the concept of Journey work by Brandon Bays. The group has a set pattern whereby we meditate for a while (trying different methods such as mantras etc) and then discuss whatever is "in the air". It is an interesting little group and a wonderful resource that has been a great comfort and support to both of us.

Yesterday the group leader brought to our attention an article on the front page of yesterdays Independent, extolling the virtues of silence. I wrote about this myself on this blog not that long ago, about how distressing I find the constant noise bombardment that we have to face, especially when shopping. It seems that the right to silence is no longer respected, and everywhere is boom, boom, boom. As someone who worked in such an environment for just over a year, I know first hand just how this can affect people. It drove me quite literally to distraction.

Everything has its price, but it seems to me that in these times of economic uncertainty, silence is the one commodity that has no price. The soul of the nation, as this wonderful article (written by Peter Stanford, whose documentary entitled The Spirit of Silence will be broadcast on Heart and Soul on the BBC World Service on March 7th) states, has been sidelined in favour of spend, spend, spend. The belief that a burgeoning bank account and the latest "must have" gadgets hold the key to the meaning of life is revealed as little more a distraction of the ego. In these times of bust, when everyone is questioning their future and what it all means, it is a relief to know that the spiritual side of life is enjoying a revival - in particular, the need for silence.

This is nothing new to me, since I have craved silence for all of my life. My father used to say that he could quite happily pitch a tent in the middle of nowhere and live completely by himself, and I am exactly the same. In fact I frequently do just that - admittedly not in a tent, but regular readers of this blog will know that I frequently disappear for weeks at a time to a lump of granite in the middle of the Bristol Channel known as the island of Lundy. There is nothing to do on the island except walk, sleep, read and eat, pretty much in that order. The silence is golden and like pouring liquid light into the soul.

The island, in keeping with other centres of retreat, has never been so prosperous as people begin to realise that a shallow existence filled with "stuff" and constant activity is not the key to happiness, and does not hold the answers that they seek. The answers can only be found in silence, and that to most, means leaving the rat race behind.

Some people are afraid of silence, which I must admit, I find difficult to understand. As Father Cyril, a novice master at a closed Catholic Monastery that Stanford visited says, "Silence is not an absence of something. It's a sort of presence. Not talking does allow people to live more deeply, to try and find themselves at a deeper level than the emotional, pretty egocentric trivial level. When that's taken away, bit by bit the person discovers who he really is".

Perhaps that is the cause of the fear, for deep down, most of us do not want to look at who we really are, for it is just too painful. So, we continue to beaver away in jobs that we hate, in order to pay for things that we do not need, simply because we are too afraid to admit that there is an alternative. Perhaps that is the lesson behind this crunch, to force us to a point where we have to look at this stuff, to see behind the illusion that keeps us trapped like donkeys on a treadmill going round and round and round, only to end up at the same point where we started.

There are many different paths to silence - at the extreme end, living as part of a silent religious order. At the less extreme end, it may mean simply meditating each day, or spending time in nature. What matters is the benefits that silence brings - a stilling of the mind, so we are no longer slaves to our thoughts, but can get to the point of stillness that lies beneath. The one thing that all these different paths have in common is that they satisfy a need that is borne from the economic uncertainly that we all face.
As Stanford so rightly says, they satisfy something deep within because they stand in direct contradiction to everything that the world, until recently, has prized. Silence is not a commodity that can be sold on the High Street or through the Internet, for it has no price, it is something that cannot be denied, for it is the core, the truth of who we are.

That more than anything is the lesson that this crunch brings, that the soul cannot be satisfied by "things" and "stuff", for these are transient things designed to keep us trapped in the illusion, distractions from the truth of who we are. Silence is who we are and it can no longer be denied.

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