The 8-Fold Path Wrap-Up

 

The 8-Fold Path for Living Daily in the Silence was designed to promote silence in one’s life, based on the understanding that silence is a benefit to us.

Over the past 14 weeks we’ve looked at the benefits of silence and by using the 8-Fold Path how to achieve silence in our lives every single day.

There are many benefits to silence. We live in a noisy world. Noise pollution is real. Noise pollution damages us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Silence repairs that damage. Silence helps us to return to wholeness.

The natural world, the world in which we as a distinct species arose and in which we lived for many hundreds of thousands of years, does not have the sound of cars and trucks in it, or that of bulldozers, or of aircraft.

The natural world is essentially quiet. The sounds in it are for the most part soft sounds. Thunder boomers are about as loud as the natural world gets, at least for most of us. Those soft sounds are what are natural to our bodies.

A look through history and the reaction to new inventions, especially the noisy ones of the industrial era, is interesting. The steam engine was condemned because it was noisy. The same for the internal combustion engine.  Improved technology made them quieter, especially the steam engine.

However, all one has to do is live next to a busy highway to know that cars and trucks are still very noisy affairs and dirty as well. Even inside our cars the noise level is loud enough to blot out the soft parts of a symphony. Toss in a piston aircraft engine from the local airport or a jet taking off and we’ve moved to a whole new level of noise. And let’s not even mention TV commercials, or such travesties of music as Death Metal.

Instinctively we value peace and quiet. And in our noisy world it is an all too rare phenomenon.

However, by following the 8-Fold Path we can reintroduce at least a modicum of silence into our lives.

I hope the series has been of benefit to you. Comments are always welcome and may you live daily in the silence.

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The 8-Fold Path-Step 8: Shikantaza

 

Probably you’ve heard that meditation is good for you. But, as with anything good for you, such as yoga or exercise, who has the time? Right?

To a great degree that’s true. Everything takes up time and there are only so many available hours in a day. And let’s face it, there are a lot more interesting things to do than devoting an hour to yoga, the treadmill, or meditation.

So why on earth is Step 8 of The 8-Fold Path to Living Daily in the Silence meditation? Because

  • Shikantaza is easy to do, and
  • We’re only doing it on our moments of “downtime”.

Shikantaza

First of all, what is shikantaza? It is a form of meditation. Shikantaza begins with the understanding that we are sitting in meditation for its own sake. Not to get something out of it. The sitting itself is the end. It isn’t a means to something else.

The second aspect of shikantaza is the actual practice. You sit for the sake of sitting. You shift your mind into neutral, as it were. Your real focus is to just sit wherever you are sitting. Let your thoughts come and go. Don’t focus on any of them. Just sit and let your mind have free range with thoughts. Watch those thoughts enter and watch them exit when you don’t latch on to them. Just watch them parade across the stage of your mind.

That’s all there is to shikantaza. The whole point of the exercise is to simply sit and do nothing. Sit for the sake of sitting. If you do so long enough, your mind will eventually stop thinking.

When to Practice Shikantaza

I have found, come to the realization actually, that throughout the day I have many moments of downtime. Time where I’m not doing anything in particular. I’m between tasks. Or I just finished one and I don’t want to start another because I’ll shortly be in a meeting, for example.

These little moments of downtime are perfect moments to engage in shikantaza.

Strictly speaking, shikantaza is a sitting meditation. You sit and do it. However, I’ve found I can do it during such activities as walking or biking or driving. The key element is simply to put the mind in neutral.

That meeting? Instead of getting all worked up by focusing on it as you walk to the room from your cube or office, simply practice shikantaza. Put your mind in neutral. If thoughts come, let them come. Just don’t cling to them. Let them leave.

By doing so, you are telling your mind they aren’t important now.

Shikantaza and Silence

So how does the practice of shikantaza help us live daily in the silence?

Practicing shikantaza in our downtime, gives the mind a break so to speak. We are training it to only entertain the thoughts we want it to entertain and when we want to do so. By not focusing on one string of thoughts, we allow our mind to rest. A mind at rest produces inner silence, there’s no chatter in our head, and thereby we experience inner peace.

The more you practice shikantaza the faster your mind will learn to stop throwing up thoughts. Why? Because, as we saw last week, the ego wants center stage. Wants you to chew on something. Shikantaza breaks that cycle of obsessing over our thoughts. Because we simply watch the thoughts come and go. And eventually, when we don’t pay attention to them, or latch onto one of them, the mind stops serving up thoughts. When that happens, we have inner silence.

Next week we’ll wind up our series on The 8-Fold Path to Living Daily in the Silence. Comments are always welcome. And until next time, enjoy the silence!

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The 8-Fold Path: Why Silence?

Last week I touched on the benefits of silence. And that we don’t have a lot of silence in our daily lives. We are inundated with sound: some of our own choosing, most not. While I’m writing this, the “roar” of the forced air heating is quite significant. When it stops, there is a noticeable return to quiet for a few moments until a truck roars by on the busy county road I live just off of.

A quick search of the internet will give us dozens of reasons why silence is beneficial; physically, mentally, and spiritually. Let’s take a look at a few of the physical and mental benefits daily periods of silence can give us.

THE BRAIN

Daily periods of silence can improve our brains. A 2011 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that walking three times in a week for 40 minutes improved spatial memory.

If we can change our setting, we give the brain something different to focus on and correlate with known data.

Most of us live in urban or suburban settings. If possible, take a walk in a park or some other natural setting. The greater the difference between the manmade and the natural, the better for our brains. Manmade noise tends to grate on our nerves. Natural sounds are much more soothing.

Go walking — without the iPod — in a natural setting. Let the natural sounds lave you with peace and tranquility.

In addition, regular periods of silence can actually stimulate brain growth.

A 2013 study, published in Brain Structure And Function, found sitting in silence for at least two hours a day could stimulate the creation of the new brain cells related to our ability to learn, remember, and emotions.

At least two hours, you may say? Who has time for that? Indeed. We live busy lives. Although some of us may have the time and that is a wonderful thing. However if you do not, I think the 8-Fold Path can help you by giving you a lifestyle of silence.

STRESS

Almost all of us are stressed. We live in a stressful world. Noise can lead to elevated levels of stress hormones — and who wants that?

Sometimes we resort to relaxing music or white noise to try relieving the stress we feel. The problem is music, no matter how relaxing, and white noise are still noise.

Silence, on the other hand, is the anti-noise, as it were. A 2006 study, which appeared in Heart, found that just two minutes of silence can release tension buildup in the body and in the mind. That sounds like a good deal to me. After all it’s only two minutes. Surely we have that much time to give to relieving stress.

INSOMNIA

It’s the pits when you can’t get to sleep. I used to hate it when it happened to me. There was nothing left to do but get up and perhaps read for a while until I felt tired.

On the other hand, daily silence can come to the rescue.

A 2015 study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, found older adults who meditated had fewer episodes of depression, fatigue, and insomnia. And meditation is done in silence.

Sitting in meditation breaks the routine of busyness and noise in our lives and can break the never ending monologue our minds at times embark on.

I know from personal experience sitting in meditation and letting my mind just drift through thoughts and feelings, not focusing on anything, eventually results in my mind stopping the thought process and that’s when the stress and anxiety falls away.

SENSITIVITY

From personal experience I can tell you silence increases one’s sensitivity to outside stimuli. After a week of silence and solitude, my whole body became more sensitive. More sensitive to sounds, touch, sights, and even thoughts, my own and others. I even think my poor hearing improved for a time. At least people could speak a bit more softly, until things went back to normal.

SUMMARY

Daily practice of silence can be very beneficial, both physically and mentally. A lifestyle of silence even more so. And that’s just on the physical and mental plane.

Whether you are a person of faith or not, I believe the practice of silence, coupled with its companion solitude, can do wonders for your soul. In a sense, silence can pull you out of yourself and take you to a place where you can, even for a moment, touch that which is beyond us.

The late Canadian psychiatrist, Dr R.M. Bucke, wrote of his experience in his book Cosmic Consciousness. Dr Bucke wrote that after a wonderful evening with friends, on the long ride home, late at night, he was “in a state of quiet, almost passive enjoyment, not actually thinking, but letting ideas, images, and emotions flow of themselves, as it were, through my mind.” In other words, Dr Bucke was unconsciously meditating in silence. What happened next changed his life forever. Here are his words:

All at once, without warning of any kind, I found myself wrapped in a flame-colored cloud. For an instant I thought of fire, an immense conflagration somewhere close by in that great city; the next, I knew that the fire was within myself. Directly afterward there came upon me a sense of exaltation, of immense joyousness accompanied or immediately followed by an intellectual illumination impossible to describe. Among other things, I did not merely come to believe, but I saw that the universe is not composed of dead matter, but is, on the contrary, a living presence; I became conscious in myself of eternal life.

Those of faith will see Dr Bucke’s testimony as evidence of their beliefs. Those not of faith will possibly attribute his vision to some other cause. For myself, I see a man who was not especially religious in the span of a few moments suddenly become convinced there is something beyond himself. Dr Bucke’s experience is, however, indicative of what many mystics have found to be true: silence and solitude can connect one with the beyond.

Most of us, though, are probably seeking a more day to day benefit. And silence certainly provides that. However, as with any practice, you get out of it what you put into it. If you simply want less stress and better memory, silence can help you achieve some of that. And less stress, along with better mind function, is a very good reason to start your journey into silence. And who knows where it may end.

Next time we’ll explore just exactly what is this silence I’m talking about.

Until then, take some time, each day is preferable, to just unplug and get away to a place with minimal noise. Then just let your mind drift, not focusing on anything. Let me know what you think.

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