If I be waspish, best beware my sting —Shakespeare Say the word wasp, and most people think of the yellowjacket. This small insect, only a…
Three hours outside Topanga lies the town of Julian, California. There you’ll find something more precious than gold.
The drive is just long enough to be a satisfying road trip. An old mine draws visitors eager to take an elevator to the bottom of the mine shaft. The guide turns out the lights, and asks everyone to listen. It is quiet. It is pitch black. You can hear it: the sound of silence.
Is the quietude reminiscent of a bygone era without modern technology or the audible byproducts of industry? A question hangs in the air: what role do we play in bringing noise and hubbub to our beautiful canyon? We moved to Topanga to get some respite from city life. It is quieter here. The pace of life is a bit slower. We feel closer to nature. Topanga is paradise – or is it? The Santa Monica Mountains has its share of barking dogs, leaf blowers, cars, trucks, planes, helicopters, birds, and chatty neighbors. One would think with all this noise we would actively seek silence. In a sense, we have. Yet still we find distraction with television, iPhones, iPads, and car radios. We tune in to news media and social media, more noise tainting our thoughts with guilt, anger, fear and anxiety. In the rare moment we are not engaged with someone or something, we become aware of our riotous thoughts. Perhaps that is why we fill our lives with noise to divert our attention from our mental chaos.
The irony is, we inherently know the healing power of silence. When a friend listens to us, and they don’t say anything, it is satisfying. Perhaps, they nod their head, or say, “I understand,” but mostly they just listen. That listening is healing. In fact, we pay therapists just to listen to us. If they say too much, we get frustrated—why can’t they just listen?
Do we give ourselves the same courtesy? Canyon dwellers know there is just as much power in silence as in making noise. However, it is difficult to slow down and easy to forget the way. Like the symbolic snake eating its own tail, a noisy mind births and releases energy into the world, creating more of the same. Silence allows us to still the mind, and reconnect with inner guidance. It is difficult to make decisions when we are overwhelmed by negative emotions, other people’s voices, and too many choices. Silence brings us to a place within us where the answers become clear.
One doesn’t have to go down a mine to hear silence. It is all around us. It is inside us. It is everywhere. What is required is a quiet room. More importantly, it is critical to calm the mind, cutting the stream of internal noise like a sword severs a taut ribbon. To go deeper, a breathing technique is useful. The inner space is as vast as outer space. Keep plumbing its depths. Tense and relax. Focus exclusively on inhaling and exhaling breath. We must convince ourselves to be still and to simply sit still.
Of course, we are talking about meditation, to which many people react by suggesting, “My mind is out of control. I can’t do it.” Of course we can. Anyone can. It takes will power and practice. It takes technique. There are many paths one can take, enough suitable for all temperaments. The key is to pick one and just begin it.
There are other ways to incorporate quiet in our lives. The great Indian leader Gandhi observed a full day of silence every Monday. Short of that, we’ve tried turning off the television and stereo in the evening, opting instead to read a book. How about eating a meal without saying a word? The morning commute bombards one with enough sounds; perhaps try keeping the radio off. There are plenty of times when you could fill your head with noise. Take advantage of those moments, and make a conscious choice to embrace the silence. As with any new routine, there may be discomfort to push past.
Let’s experiment, explore, and receive the priceless gifts silence has to offer.