Sunday, June 14, 2020

The Beauty of Silence: Learning to Live Without Distractions

The Beauty of Silence

I know, this might sound like a strange question but don't you ever feel the need to switch off all distractions and just focus on what you are doing?

I mean, today's technology offers us endless options to keep ourselves busy even while doing mindless tasks.  We have education, information, and entertainment at the reach of our fingertips, and available 24/7.  

I totally love that.  But what if we just put our devices down and simply stay in silence?

My quarantine in India –– Best silent retreat ever

In my previous two blogs, I told you about my recent trip to Jodhpur and Pushkar, two beautiful cities in Rajasthan, India. 

I was going to tell you about Varanasi next, but spending all this time in isolation here in India, because of the pandemic, inspired me to talk about my daily routine first.  

So I shared a vlog on my YouTube channel where I talk about my quarantine-yoga-routine as a foreigner in India.  That was during the week sixth of the lockdown. 

In the video (after minute 12:30) I mentioned that one of the things that I enjoy the most about the quarantine is how much silence I experience daily.  

Seriously, I love it!

I normally experience several hours of silence every day because of my yoga practice, and because I'm a solo traveler, but the quarantine has made it even more extensive.  Pretty much the whole day I'm in silence.  

A few weeks have passed since I shot that video and I have continued to enjoy this silence even more.  This lockdown in India has truly become the best silent retreat I've ever done.  

But even though I'm in silence all day long, sometimes I'm not truly in silence.  Let me explain (Varanasi will come later).

Trying to be productive

Normally (during my quarantine days here in Mysore), whenever I'm doing a simple mindless task like cleaning, cooking, or eating I like to watch a video or listen to something.  

You know, there is always something new to learn or to discover and no time to waste.  Right?  

So as soon as I have the opportunity, for instance at dinner time, I wear my earbuds, put on a video, audiobook, or podcast on my iPhone and listen to it while I eat.  In this way, I can use every single moment of my day to do something productive.  

Unfortunately, all these constant listening or watching creates restlessness and mental distraction, particularly when we are doing something else at the same time.  

So we keep adding more noise to the mind, which is by its nature already quite noisy.

Believe me, even if I'm listening to a beautiful yoga discourse while I'm cleaning my room, a part of my mind is getting agitated, although I might not be fully conscious of it.  Something is missing.

“Understand the power of silence. The power of silence is infinitely greater than lectures, talks, orations, and discourses [...] The language of silence is the language of God. The language of silence is the language of the heart. Sit silently and restrain the mental modifications. Sit silently and send out the inner spiritual force to the whole world.”  Swami Vishnudevananda, Meditation and Mantras.

The beauty of silence

What is missing?  The answer is simple.  Silence.

Even though I might be already in silence because I'm not talking with anybody, I don't truly allow myself to experience it because I get so busy even while performing simple mundane tasks.  I always have something to do.

So in the midst of all these activities, at some point, something within tells me that I need to press pause for a moment and just focus on what I'm doing.  

Really, we don't need to do multiple things at the same time all the time, trying to fill up every moment we can with more noise.  Instead, we can also enjoy what we are doing without any added distractions.  

Switching off all external distractions like music, audiobooks, podcasts, youtube videos, TV shows, and so on, while you are performing mindless tasks, allows the mind to slow down and become present.  

This is the beauty of silence.

When you learn to be in silence, you learn to enjoy the sweetness (or the bitterness) of each moment.  You become an observer of your actions and a witness of your mind, as you immerse yourself in whatever you are doing. 

Then, as the mindfulness teachers say: 

“When you are cleaning you simply, clean. When you are cooking you simply cook.  When you are eating you simply eat.  When you walk you simply walk.” 

Simple mundane activities can be transformed into profound spiritual moments as we learn to enjoy each moment to the fullest.

Why we should practice silence

But somehow whenever we even consider stopping all this external noise the mind creates excuses to prevent us from doing so.

The mind is so used to noise, so it tells us that we can't be in silence because it is boring, it feels uncomfortable, or because we need to be more productive.

I almost never feel bored honestly, and I am very comfortable with silence, but I do feel the urge to do more with my day. I often ask myself, “Oh, should I listen to this Bhagavad Gita lecture, or should I just do the dishes?” Lol.

Anyway, the truth is there is nothing boring or unproductive about silence if you learn to appreciate it.

You actually already know this.  I mean, for how long can you listen to music non-stop?  

I guess after a couple of hours you might feel like you've had enough and you need to turn the music off, otherwise you might get a headache, even if it is a calm and relaxing music. Right?

However, because we are so used to be distracted we might unconsciously keep switching from one distraction to another distraction, non-stop, all day long.  

This is why it is important to consciously decide to be in silence at specific times during the day.

I'm not talking about doing a sitting meditation practice.  Not even that.  Simply do whatever you have to do but do it in silence, without distracting you with anything else. 

Even if you have a daily meditation practice it is still important to give yourself some time to be in silence during the day.  The silence you experience in meditation is a deeper form of silence.  We might talk about that later on. 

“Spiritual power is lessened by many bad habits, not the least of which is useless and excessive talking. Diarrhea of the tongue wastes much energy that could be utilized for personal development. Too much talking makes a person restless and unfit for the practice of meditation. The wise speak only a few words, and those only when necessary, for by their very economy they will carry the most force. To help calm, center, and discipline the mind, mouna, silence, can be observed for about two hours daily, in addition to the time spent in meditation. In order to be of the most practical value, silence is best practiced at those times when there is great temptation to talk.”   Swami Vishnudevananda, Meditation and Mantras

Nourish yourself with silence

Now I'm not saying that you shouldn't listen at all to music, an audiobook or a podcast while you are at the gym, commuting, or preparing a meal.  Like I mentioned earlier, I do this all the time because I'm passionate about learning and I like to feel productive.

This is a wonderful way to make use of our limited time to nourish our minds, learning something new, or developing a new skill.  

But let's not forget that we also need to nourish ourselves with silence.  

Just as you invest time in learning so you can also give yourself some time to enjoy silence.  Stop all distractions and be in the present.  Then you'll realize that when you are in silence the nourishment comes from within.

How and when to practice silence

The easiest way I've found to practice silence is to do it while performing a simple activity.  It should be something that you do regularly and that it doesn't require you to speak or think too much.

Usually, I like to be in silence while I'm preparing my brunch.  It is pretty natural for me at that moment since I do this right after I finish my yoga practice.  You can see me in action after minute 13:15 in my YouTube video.  Lol.

So you need to find the right time and the right activity for yourself.  

Let's say you have to take the dog for a walk.  You can decide to do this in silence.  Simply be a witness of your actions and your thoughts.  Avoid distracting yourself with music or anything else.  That's all.

Another really good time to practice silence is during meal times.  Instead of watching the news, you can simply eat in silence.  Even better, you could practice mindful eating.  

In my next blog, I'll share with you how exactly I practice mindful eating, step by step. Make sure you subscribe to my newsletter so you won't miss my next update.

One more great time to be in silence is when you drink your tea or coffee in the morning.  I don't drink either, but I've seen my friends doing so and I can see that most people naturally do this in silence.  Just be conscious of it.

What is your experience with silence?

Has this pandemic given you the opportunity to be in silence during the day?  Have you enjoyed it or have you found it challenging?  

Perhaps it has been the opposite because you've had no option but to be at home with your whole family.  Well, if that's the case you've probably learned to appreciate silence even more.  Lol.

If you have any questions or if you like to share your own thoughts about silence please feel free to include them in the comment section below.  

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