Lately my head has been filled with more noise than usual. In meditation the noise is more intrusive. Awakening from sleep at 2AM, it rushes in –‘Did I pay that bill in time or just think I did?’ ‘Which hotel should I reserve for the conference next month?’ Or a variety of other ‘problem solving thoughts’ pushing me awake from a deep sleep.
‘Noise’ can be quite creative. Sometimes when I am sitting in meditation and following my breath solutions to problems simply emerge. ‘Just book one of the hotels; re-reading the reviews won’t change anything and I can always cancel’. Yet whether useful thoughts or just mundane mental wanderings, they are noise when they interfere with me being in silence or just trying to sleep.
True silence for me is a peaceful, open place, more like not being than being anything. It rarely continues for more than a few moments, but it can be as refreshing as a cool drink on a hot, thirsty day. Yet the noise is not evil or even my enemy; it just is. The content may vary, but it is a part of the mind doing what it does. In meditation practice we are taught not to feed it; just let it pass on by like leaves floating by on a river.
Of course the silence isn’t something to be worshiped either. Thinking and feeling and speaking are important aspects of life. Engaging in projects and relating with others are the meat of life. These lend meaning to and enrich our existence. It is the sometimes obsessive thoughts about doing, as well as our over-identification with what we do that interfere with us being fully present in our lives. Silence creates the space to reconnect.
In silent meditation, I follow my breath as a structure to help me let go of the noise and be present. Sometimes I visualize it in three parts: 1) the in-breath: drawing the outer world into my inner world; 2) the out-breath: releasing my inner world to the outer; and then 3) the pause after exhalation, when the inner and outer are one. For that moment not even the breath interferes with the silence. Of course the silence is always present whether or not I sense it.
Yet how to bring silence awareness into everyday life? Especially in the midst of discussing things with others or working on projects it can be valuable to ground myself in the present with a touch of stillness. Easier said than done. I read an article that suggested it is in the moments of true silence that we connect, even merge with God. I am aware of how, in those moments, I can feel one with the Universal while still very much in the ordinary world.
Stepping back into the silence following the breath, I know it won’t last long. For now I accept that as what is, staying open for a short while, even accepting the returning thoughts. At times accepting what is, can be difficult for me. But it makes being and changing much easier.