Sounds of Silence

Think of a time when you were sitting with a person, or a group of people, laughing and having fun and then an awkward moment of silence occurred. Someone in the group probably began talking again as soon as possible, grasping for another similar story, or taking the pause as an opportunity to switch topic. More words, more conversation, filling up the empty space.

There are some people we are completely comfortable with; some people we can share silence and stillness with without feeling awkward. Maybe at a campfire. Maybe staring out at the ocean. When was the last time you sat with someone in complete silence and stillness? Not watching tv. Not on your phones. Not reading, or writing, or drawing, or eating, or drinking, or knitting. Not feeling like there needed to be sound or movement, not feeling like the thoughts in your head had to come out of your mouth. Just sitting. Just being.

I enjoy sitting in silence with people. I used to find it really awkward, but I don’t any more. Now, I actually look forward to it. I seek it out. I’ve been busy supporting the marching band for the past few months, so I’ve missed the monthly group silent meditations that I’ve come to love, but I’m excited to say I’ll be going back on December 7th.

The thought of me looking forward to a full day of silence would’ve been ridiculous a few years ago. I didn’t want to be still or silent for 8 minutes, never mind 8 hours! Savasana (the final resting pose) was the most torturous part of a yoga class for me. I was anxious, fidgety, occasionally panicky, and more than once, full-on sobbing… Silence and stillness were definitely not for me! My brain just wouldn’t stop. Every single uncomfortable thing in my life and in my past rose up to the surface in that silence. But because I wanted to keep going to yoga classes, and because I knew I’d have to lie in savasana again and again, I decided it was something I should try to work on.

And so I sat. I started with 1 minute, and slowly worked up to 2, then 3… until one day 15 minutes of sitting felt just like 2!

Now, I sit daily. I sit, but I’m not sitting with an empty head. I’m sitting with my frantic head. Or my angry head. Or my worried head. Or my sad head. Or my happy head. I’m sitting with whatever my head thinks I should sit with… but I’m not engaging it any more. I’m noticing it. I’m observing it. And then I’m letting it go. Sometimes it comes back, so I notice again, observe again, and let it go again. This is the process. If you think that everyone else is out there sitting without a thought, without a worry, without any discomfort or bit of struggle, you are mistaken. They too are thinking, noticing, observing, and attempting to let go.

People are always telling me that they can’t be still and silent. When I posted about the retreat on Facebook the other day, a couple of friends said that a day like that would be the death of them! Some folks really believe they can’t do silent stillness. They believe that because their minds are fuller, busier, racier than everyone else’s they could never meditate, but that isn’t so. They can.

With practice, we all can. It’s just that the busy brain doesn’t really want to. It wants to move, it wants to do, it wants to work, to fire, to race, to create, rehash, remember, project, to fantasize, argue, worry, to plan. The busy brain thinks that it’s doing its job, and part of that job is protecting us from the uncomfortable silence. But really, the busy brain just wants control. It’s a bit of a narcissist, thinking it’s more important than the body or the spirit, just because it’s the only one that can think. Huh! But, since it is the thinker, it usually does take control of the body, and the spirit. And it wants to maintain control all day, and even through the night, sometimes at the expense of our sleep. The busy brain is strong enough and manipulative enough to convince us that it’s in charge.

After wrestling with it on the cushion, one minute at a time, we can come to understand that the calm mind, the peaceful mind, the empty mind, can slowly start to take over. And one day, we might realize that our busy brains have become more still, and more relaxed. The calm mind wants to live in peace and harmony with the body and spirit, and when the three are in line, and working together, we are actually much more in control of our lives, our actions and reactions.

You may think you’re not a calm peaceful person, and you can’t sit still, but most calm, peaceful folks didn’t start sitting because they were calm and peaceful. They sat because they were the exact opposite. Their busy brains were taking control of their lives. They were too active, too noisy, too scattered, too stressed, too anxious, too full.

The calm, the pause, and the peace, weren’t always there. It happened slowly, over time. It happened by sitting still and working through the awkward silences. It happened by noticing and observing the busy mind and learning why it wanted to be in control. It happened with patience, and with persistence, and with practice. Daily practice.

We don’t sit because we’re calm. We’re calm because we sit!


If you’re interested in trying formal meditation but you don’t know where to start, I offer you these options:

Download an app. There so many out there. Pick one, give it a try, then try another.

Click on my 1 minute meditation page. There are a bunch of suggestions for you.

Come to a yoga Nidra class! We move for 30 minutes to get all the fidgets out, then you lie down (on bolsters, under blankets) for a long, carefully constructed guided meditation.

Most Friday nights I teach a Restorative/meditation class.

Find a local meditation group to sit with, like the Insight Meditation Community of NJ.

Or you can email me or text me. I’ll be more than happy to have a conversation with you, to guide you through a meditation by phone, or, if you’re close enough, to come and sit with you for a spell.


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