Our home lost power several times last year. Everything running on electricity stopped working, and the house became eerily quiet. When the power outages were lengthy, I began to appreciate the silence. Then I wondered, “What would happen if I could as easily switch off the noises in my head? Would I cease to function like those electrical appliances? Like my computer, would I be unable to think?”
Well, it turns out that my query isn’t original. Ancient sages and seers addressed the question of silence long before electricity was harnessed. They put silence to the test and discovered something quite wonderful: Silence is like a doorway that leads to a world of profound peace and joy.
Observing silence is a yogic practice. It’s also included in many religious traditions. It takes many forms. Meditation and prayer are forms of silence. So is taking a long, solitary walk. Practicing silence might include periods of time without talking. It also includes turning off external noises like television.
The Noises of Everyday Life
Noise is a disruption to peace and quiet, whether externally or within our mental world.
Man-made noise is so common that we might be desensitized to it. If you live in a city, you’re familiar with non-stop traffic and construction sounds. City dwellers can hear their neighbors’ conversations and blaring music. Even if you close the doors and windows these sounds can permeate your home.
The semi-rural area where I live has its own sort of noise. Chainsaws and wood chippers are at work nearly every day. Dogs bark, and the crows and blue jays make quite a ruckus in the trees. Often, I can hear the sound of a children’s soccer game in the nearby park. Just like in big cities, the quietest moments in my neighborhood are in the middle of the night.
Inner Noise and Silence
Similarly, we all experience internal noise. Thoughts and memories constantly crowd our minds. We make plans and decisions, talk to ourselves, and continue conversations with others—all inside our heads. That mental activity, like external noise, affects our inner peace.
Consider the familiar image of Buddha meditating under the Bodhi Tree—a scene of complete quietude. We’re told that the Buddha is experiencing “the void, nirvana, perfect peace and bliss.” This is the state we hope to experience in our meditation sessions.
However, according to yogis, inner silence takes multiple forms—not only that of meditation. Our yoga practices result in a calm and peaceful feeling all day long. The Bhagavad Gita defines this state as even-mindedness, equanimity:
“Perform your actions, casting off attachment and remaining even-minded both in success and in failure. This evenness is called yoga.” (Bhagavad Gita II:48)
Equanimity doesn’t mean that our minds stop working like our computer does in a power outage. Inner silence during everyday activities implies that we’re aware of our thoughts—but not driven by them. We continue to work and play, but our mental state is calm, peaceful, and uplifting.
Benefits of Observing Silence
By removing ourselves from noisy distractions for a period every day we quickly notice benefits. Practicing silence is like R&R for the mind. Would you consider skipping a night’s sleep? Probably not. We know that we need quality sleep to function at our best tomorrow. Observing silence gives rest to the mind like a good night’s sleep gives rest to the body.
In silence, we’re more aware of our mind’s constant movement. That mindfulness brings clarity to the present moment. We have better focus, and we’re more efficient at work. Everyday tasks are completed easily.
The discipline of silence makes the mind strong. A strong mind is a good friend. It helps us make wise decisions and follow through on them.
Silence also affects our meditation practice. By removing both external and internal noise, meditation becomes easier and more satisfying. Then it feels like an inner sanctuary of peace. We’re drawn to it, and it’s no longer a chore to “sit still and do nothing.”
Yoga masters say that practicing silence also affects the subconscious mind. It paves the way to experiencing our inner being—the Self, which is always present but rarely recognized. Connecting with the Self gives us the experience of profound bliss and love.
General Suggestions for Observing Silence
To be more peaceful, even-minded, yoga masters urge us to observe silence as a daily practice. Make some rules for yourself about this quiet time. Rules might include setting aside your phone or walking away from the computer with its constant messages and alerts. Your rules might also include not speaking for a period of time.
Create a specific intention for your practice—time and location. Add “Observe Silence” to your daily to-do list. Use the time as a break from the day’s busyness. You might need to withdraw physically from your work or home environment. Take a walk or sit in a quiet place like a park or library.
Adding pleasant sounds to minify noise might improve your surroundings. Consider adding “white noise” like soft music or a recording of rain or surf. At times, noise-cancelling headphones can be a godsend.
Try not to make judgments about your experience. Practicing silence is a personal investment that might take time to produce results. Have patience and trust that results are inevitable.
How to Practice Inner Silence
Inner silence, the peace that passes understanding, is no accident. It requires sincere effort. Fortunately, we have more control of our inner world than our external environment. There are countless varieties of practicing silence. You’re free to develop an approach that fits your situation.
The mind is filled with noise. With practice, mental chatter slows, and inner peace grows. However, yogis—ancient and modern—warn us that the mind is resistant to being silenced forcefully. That’s why they offer practical suggestions that help quiet the mind naturally. Here are just a few:
- Yogis use Sanskrit chanting for its mental affects. The sounds of Sanskrit calm the mind. Reading Sanskrit while singing requires focus. This calm focus is good preparation for meditation. YouTube and iTunes are good places to look for Sanskrit chants. Find something that appeals to you. Listen to it as part of your silence practice or whenever your mind is restless. You’ll be surprised at the effectiveness of Sanskrit chants.
- Hatha yogis may use their asana practice as a time of silence. Practice alone and without distractions. Be aware of your breath and the movement within each posture. Notice when your mind wanders, and return to your inner focus.
- Use an app. Meditation, mindfulness, and relaxation apps can be very useful tools. An Internet search for “meditation app” results in a wide variety of options. Consider testing some apps that offer free trials. Even testing apps is bound to have a pleasant effect. Any amount of turning your awareness from noise to silence is beneficial.
- Read something interesting and inspirational. By pleasing the mind this way, you’ll develop the ability to focus and concentrate. These are especially helpful qualities in your silence practice.
- Take a purposeless walk. It’s not necessary to have a destination in mind. But know that your true aim is to clear and quiet the mind. Breathe consciously. Count your steps: 1, 2, 1, 2.
Practice Pays Off
Sometimes, a noisy environment is beyond escape. Despite our best intentions we’re stuck. This could even happen at home. The neighbors might throw a lengthy party with loud music. Or even closer—a noisy roommate! Family gatherings can be chaotic. So is waiting for your connecting flight at an airport.
When we regularly practice silence we connect with our inner “place” of peace. Because we’re familiar with it, we can return to it mentally any time. Next time you’re in a noisy or stressful environment, tune out the noise and recall your inner quiet place. You’ll be surprised at how easy it is to be peaceful anywhere.
There are countless techniques for practicing silence. How do you turn off external noise? What works best for your inner silence? Please share in the comments below.
Chityānanda has been a disciple of Svāmī Gurupremānanda Sarasvatī since 1975. She teaches meditation and yoga as a spiritual path in Santa Cruz, California.