“Allow the genuine silence that is ever-present behind the noise of everyday life to increasingly draw you to itself.” – Stephen Bodian (Wake Up Now)
“When you become responsive to the solicitations of silence, you may be called to explore the invitation.”
Silence does not sit well with the American character. If people are gathered together and not otherwise engaged in some activity and nothing is being said, it is sometimes referred to as an “uncomfortable” or “awkward” silence. In many homes, there will be several TV’s on with no one watching, perhaps some music playing as well. I know several people who sleep with the TV on, and can’t sleep without it. The sound “relaxes” them. In our social encounters, we generally seem much more interested in talking than in listening, and in those encounters, if there are any significant number of people present, there will be a jumble of conversations, each trying to be heard over the others.
Increasingly, people taking walks (even nature walks) will be on their phones or their music players, ear buds in place, quite cut off from the subtle sounds of the world and nature around them. A busy city street corner is a discordant symphony of sounds; emergency vehicle sirens, autos, buses and trucks, people talking, perhaps construction, the sounds of civilization. It seems that everywhere, the sounds of modern life drown out nature, and all this sound drowns out our own nature, always there, but forgotten and overlooked in the life of a modern person. This leads to agitation and agitation leads to anxiety and disquiet, and anxiety and disquiet is one way of looking at what Buddhism means when it speaks of suffering.
In accounts of people from nature-based cultures coming to cities in “civilization” there is a consistent report of being overwhelmed by the noise. One particular account is of a Native-American in the early 19th century having traveled to Washington D.C. for a treaty negotiation lamenting upon his return to his village that the noise was so terrible that he feared he would never be able to “dream” again. This, for a traditional Native American of the old ways was a disaster, for “dreaming” was a state of consciousness where the world revealed itself at a deeper level than what is seen, heard and thought at the level of the conventional senses.
“Dreaming” is not the dualistic world where a human is separate from other humans, from animals and the natural world in an organization of linear time, where space is just empty, functioning as an agent of separation; it is the non-dualistic, non-linear realm of energetic consciousness connecting all that is. In this realm, time and space are non-linear, so prophecy and remote-viewing are possible. Individuality is relative so that a person can be both human and a spirit-animal, see through another’s eyes, and be available to the wisdom of nature, and space is a field of energy connecting objects that have energy patterns and signatures that give them unique properties and powers.
Entering the “dream” realm can occur both while asleep and awake and to lose this capacity was to be banished from the world more real to a traditional Native American, Australian Aborigine, or African Bushman than what we moderns experience as real. The gate to this realm is the silent mind beneath the cacophony of what we moderns mistake for the limits of mind in its constant noise of sensation, thought and emotion. It is also the silent realm of nature, the vast background of energetic and vibrant stillness out of which all life activity arises. This silent realm is consciousness which gives rise to all that is. Individualized it is awareness and it is the field of potential behind and beneath the arising of all sense experience and thought.
When directed to identify mind in our culture, we will identify thought, which is the mind talking to itself. When we are directed to identify ourselves at our most basic level and experience, we will identify our experience of thought and emotion. When directed to identify our purpose it will be to leave our mark, in a sense, make some noise so that our presence in this world is noted. Silence is nothing – it is an absence of anything. In silence, we think we are nobody to the world, so that even when we are externally silent, we are making noise internally, telling ourselves the story of “me.” But this is only who we think we are. Wisdom traditions from cultures all around the world and through time tell us that this is a misidentification of catastrophic error.
The greatest Zen koan is the most basic question: “Who are you?” And the Zen tradition tells us that this inquiry must be approached with a silent mind – or at least, for the novice to meditation, the attempt to achieve a silent mind through enforced physical silence and stillness. There you sit, watching the activity of your mind. How long will it take to realize you are not the activity of the mind, the restless, repetitive jabbering? Return to the sentence that says “There you sit, watching the activity of your mind.” Who is this “you?” Who is watching the activity of the mind? YOU! You, the silent awareness that is witness to the restless, repetitive jabbering. YOU!
All along, through your entire life, the silent mind of awareness is present, its true value and purpose ignored, as overlooked as the air that surrounds you, but which without, you could not exist. So, too, without awareness you could not exist, for awareness is who you are. Likewise, without awareness there is no intelligence, for it is not the realm of thought that gives rise to intelligence as is evident by how much of thought is truly useless, often foolish, even harmful.
As aboriginal people and mystics of every culture understood, there is the realm of consciousness that binds and connects the universe, that is the unfathomable intelligence that beats your heart, gives rise to the stars and the atoms, to all that is alive, from the most primitive single cell organism to humanity. The universe happens as matter and consciousness, the harmony and balance of the forms of matter the result of the infinite and perfect intelligence of the universe. This perfect intelligence also gives rise to you and me. We are expressions of the universe just as the stars and planets and birds, trees and oceans. This is known to us, not as thoughts, but in the silent intuitive intelligence of awareness.
This silent genius is you, beneath the cacophony of chattering mind that thinks you are just Jim or Betty, stumbling to find your place in the world, when your place is right where you are, the universe manifesting as a human being. You know everything you need to know to brilliantly be a human being the way a tree knows how to be a tree if you will only learn to trust the silent mind that awaits your awakening into the truth of who you are.
Be drawn to this silence, explore its truth and solicitation, and find a peace in your own presence that is simultaneous with all presence. The universe is happening through you. Touch the silent mind and you will touch infinity within the finiteness of your life. Look for the silent mind and it will show itself in the act of looking, for it is the awareness that looks. Look at the world and live from that which looks adding nothing of what you think – that which thinks is neither you nor the world. The silent mind is.