The 8-Fold Path – Step 7: Focus on Now

The Ego is a ruthless attention seeker. It drives our mind down all manner of non-productive paths just to get the attention it craves. And one of the ways it does this is by creating problems for the mind to solve. The solution, in order to promote silence, is to focus on NOW.

Our brain is a complex system and is, in a sense, three brains in one. Paul MacLean put forth the three brain model, which he developed in the early 1950s. His theory of our “three” brains became very popular in the ‘60s and, as with all things, has been modified over time in the light of new knowledge and understanding.

Nevertheless, for our purposes here, his model works just fine. The oldest part of our brain is the “reptilian brain”. The brain stem and cerebellum. It controls vital functions and basic responses: temperature control, fight-or-flight, hunger, defending territory, keeping safe, fear. This part of our brain tends to be rigid and compulsive. Our obsessions originate here.

The next development, evolutionarily speaking, was the limbic brain. This brain first emerged in early mammals. We could call it the “mouse brain”. Or the dog or cat brain if you prefer. This brain records memories of behaviors that produce agreeable or disagreeable results. The emotions are found here. Value judgements originate here, as well; which we often make without being consciously aware we’re making them — and they exert a strong influence on our behavior.

The final brain is the cortex or neocortex. The “primate brain”. This is the brain that differentiates primates from all other mammals and humans from primates. This is where language, abstract thought, imagination, and consciousness originate.

Okay, back to the clever Ego. The Ego is something we make up. It is a construct of who we think we are, or believe we are.

The Ego is not me and it is not you.

The Ego is what creates the emotional drama or firestorms in our lives. Why? Because it wants to be the center of our attention.

The Ego is the culprit that robs us of inner silence and peace of mind. It does this by creating false problems for us to solve. This is easy to do because the “primate brain” is a problem solving machine and is easily tricked by the Ego to solve non-problems: problems that are imaginary and don’t exist. Such as worrying about the future that hasn’t happened yet and obsessing about the past we can do nothing about.

For example, your boss, or spouse, or best friend chews you out for some reason. The Ego goes to work. It draws on your needs, your fears, your sense of fairness — and creates drama so you keep chewing on the event. Criticizing the other and defending yourself. Excusing what you did to set them off. Justifying it, making it “right”.

There’s no silence in your mind, for a raging argument is going on in your head. There’s no peace in your soul, because you feel hurt, wounded, mistreated. You’re a victim. And undeservedly so.

And the Ego is doing its happy dance.

Why? Why does the Ego want drama? Discord? Mental noise?

Think for a moment of a time where you weren’t thinking of anything. Of a time when you were filled with peace. Doesn’t matter how long or short the time was, or what was going on to induce the peace. Just think about it for a moment.

Where was the Ego? It wasn’t around, was it? There was just You and you were enjoying the tranquility. All was right in the world.

The Ego is the “Big I” and it doesn’t want competition for center stage.

The way to deny the Ego, the Big I, center stage and get drama out of your life is to focus on NOW.

Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power of Now was a vital contributor to my current thinking, as was his follow-up book A New Earth. Tolle didn’t come up with anything new. Mystics have been saying the same things for millennia. It was how he said what he said.

Another book that was very influential was Games Zen Masters Play: Writings of R.H. Blyth, edited by Robert Sohl and Audrey Carr. Sadly it’s out of print and used copies tend to be expensive. The book, though, is nonpareil.

Focusing on NOW is the secret weapon to getting the Ego off stage, to getting control of your life back, and to experience ongoing inner silence and peace.

There are many techniques for focusing on NOW and shoving the prima donna Ego off stage. Many books have been written detailing these techniques. Next week I’ll talk about my favorite. Today, I’ll give you a simple suggestion that works very well.

Your boss has just chewed you out. And you think unfairly. He or she didn’t even hear you out! You’re seething with anger. No silence in your mind, is there? The debate is still raging in your head as you go back to your cube or work station.

What do you do? Continue to seethe? Continue to play out the scene in all of its unfairness? You could, although it’s not a good idea. Such raging emotions are bad for you physically and emotionally. They cause high blood pressure, increase stomach acid, give you a headache. The reptile brain is preparing us to flee or fight. We’re keyed up. We can’t think straight. Not a good situation to be in.

If you can, go to a different location. One that is fairly quiet. If you can’t do that, take a bathroom break and sit in a stall. If that’s not possible, that’s okay. Stay in your cube or at your work station. What you do next is what’s most important.

Take a deep breath, hold it a moment, exhale. Repeat until you begin to feel at least some of the anger drift away. Then focus on NOW. The very moment of time you’re in. The quiet around you or the task at hand, whatever your job entails. If your mind drifts, say “no”, and bring it back to NOW.

This practice is no different than what an actor or actress does going on stage. I am waiting in the wings. My cue is coming up. I take a deep breath, empty my mind as I exhale, take another breath and become my character. When I hear my cue, I go out on stage. I’m no longer me. That person and his problems were left in the wings. I’m now the character I’m playing.

It’s the same when your boss chews you out. Or you have a fight with your spouse. Or something happens to upset you. Empty yourself of Ego and let the real You take over. And of course this is something that takes work, until you do it often enough for it to become habit.

As always, questions are welcome. And until next time, take time to silence the Ego and enjoy peace.

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The 8-Fold Path-Step 6: Valuing the Sound of Silence

For the past few weeks we’ve talked about talking. Specifically, how we can limit it or eliminate it altogether. Both our own talking and the talking of others.

Today we’re going to look at Step 6 on The 8-Fold Path for Living Daily in the Silence, which is

Value Silence Over Man-Made Sounds

Most of us willingly bombard ourselves with sound. Whether it be the radio, or the TV, or the iPod, or streaming movies and music, we rarely find ourselves soundless. And that’s not counting things such as the dishwasher, garbage disposal, or vacuum sweeper.

Now we probably don’t want to go too long without running the dishwasher or the vacuum. The making of those sounds we pretty much can’t do without. Although we do have the option of earplugs to dampen or eliminate their noise.

I’m more concerned with the first items I mentioned, which are often used as white noise machines. Noise producers to cancel out unwanted noise. Of course, we often want to listen to music, or stream a TV show or movie. And that’s perfectly alright.

What I’m getting at is more the notion that instead of valuing sound, we value no sound — that is, silence. Instead of always having music playing in the background or the radio or the TV, we shut off the sound producers and revel in the sound of no sound, other than that which naturally occurs.

Why? you may ask. White noise is noise. It’s a bit oxymoronic to make noise to cancel out noise. If you don’t want sound, then eliminate the sound and if you can’t do that, then block it from being heard. Why make more noise to block noise?

Now you may be saying, my white noise is more pleasant to listen to than the noise I don’t want to hear, which is disturbing me. Okay. I get that. But does your white noise totally block out the other noise? If not, then you haven’t really achieved your goal. You’ve only added more noise to your world.

When I was a working stiff, I resorted to headphones and music to cancel out the work noise that I found annoying. The problem was, I still heard the disturbing noise unless I had the volume up to painful levels. Which also meant others could also hear my noise and when they in turn complained about my noise, I had another problem on my hands. In addition, the noise around me came through loud and clear during soft spots in the music or between songs. So, again, the white noise wasn’t a very good solution.

The better solution was the use of earplugs — which eliminated the unwanted noise altogether. I felt much calmer and more at peace when there was no stimulation of any kind. And who doesn’t want more calm and peace in his or her life?

Now I love music and that shows up in a lot of my writing. However, the older I get the more I find I value silence over sound. And as my hearing continues to deteriorate and I have to up the volume to uncomfortable levels just to hear the sonata over the hissing of my tinnitus, I find it much more peaceful to simply eliminate the sound altogether.

Ultimately, if we want peace and tranquility in our lives, we have to promote peace and tranquility. It won’t happen by magic. We have to work for peace and tranquility in our lives. Noise pollution is real and it does cause physical damage as well as create emotional tension and anxiety. And we live in a very noisy world.

Besides, the music we love we’ll appreciate that much more if we aren’t constantly hearing it. Ever play a song or a concerto after not hearing it for some time? Doesn’t it sound fresh and exciting again?

Valuing silence over man-made sounds will bring us greater peace and tranquility — as well as greater appreciation of the sounds we love. A win-win in my book.

Comments are always welcome and until next time spend some time valuing the sound of silence!

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The 8-Fold Path-Step 5: The Scent of Silence

We live in a world where, at least for most of us, we can’t avoid talking at some point during the day. Over the past several weeks we’ve looked at various ways in which we can limit talking. Today, we’re taking a different approach. We’re going to look at our speech itself. How to infuse our speech with silence.

My speech at all times should be infused with the scent of silence.

Now what do I mean by “the scent of silence”? Namely this, that my words, volume, and tone of voice should foster a sense of quietude, a sense of peace and tranquility such as one gets from silence.

How do we do that? Let’s look at each of the above three factors I mentioned.

Words

We should carefully, thoughtfully choose our words when we speak. Instead of speaking as though we were imitating a machine gun, by simply slowing down and giving ourselves just a few milliseconds to think we can choose words that won’t agitate or upset or goad others. We can instead choose words that are neutral, supportive, and encouraging. Words which promote the effects of silence.

Volume

The volume with which we speak literally speaks volumes. Very often we speak much more loudly than is needed. This may be due to our being excited, or perhaps our own hearing loss, or simply force of habit. Whatever the reason, our voices often overpower others and loud voices are often irritating — especially if the speaker’s words are aggressive or challenging or smack of authority.

I first experienced this scent of silence in my grandparents’s home. They were soft-spoken people. I never heard them raise their voices. In fact, the joke was you could always tell they were having an argument because they were even quieter than usual.

My sister is the same way. Very soft-spoken. I feel badly when I go to her house because I tend to be loud; in part due to my failing hearing, increasing tinnitus, and force of habit. My hearing loss also forces her to speak louder than she normally does. Otherwise, I literally can’t hear her. But even though she speaks louder for my sake, she still scents her speech with silence by means of our next point.

Tone

By tone, I mean the general mood, feel, and manner of speech. Just like in music, where tone conveys the piece’s emotive quality by how it makes us feel and the mood it puts us in, so too with tone of voice. Soft and peaceful tones, instead of harsh and grating ones, convey the spirit of silence.

Just as when we carefully choose our words and consciously control our volume, when we carefully select our tone of voice we can promote silence in ourselves and in the world around us.

Speaking in such a way that reflects the peace brought about in us by the practice of silence can go a very long way towards the creation of an entire environment that is saturated with silence.

Practice

I encourage you during this next week to practice infusing your speech with the scent of silence.

Speak a little slower, choose your words carefully, soften your volume, and make your tone of voice pleasant and joy-filled.

Comments are always welcome and, until next time, enjoy the silence!

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The 8-Fold Path-Step 4: Appearing Wise

 

Often, we find ourselves in group settings. Whether a business meeting, a committee of an organization we’re in, or a party, because we’re social creatures we usually end up working or playing with others. Which provides us a wonderful opportunity to practice silence. And that brings us to the 4th step on the 8-Fold Path for Living Daily in the Silence:

In group settings, remember even the fool appears wise when he or she says nothing.

We’ve all been there. That meeting at work, or church, or the club, or the party with friends or relatives where one person dominates the gathering and everyone wishes he or she would at least take a breath once in a while. And maybe, just maybe, we find out through the grapevine that person is us. Not a pretty picture that.

I remember a club meeting I was at many years ago where a person started criticizing a couple in the group with a rather loud voice, not realizing they were sitting at the same table. Embarrassing. The couple never came back. Unfortunately, the loud mouth was a driving force behind the group. But after that incident, no one wanted to work with him anymore and the group fell apart.

Talking too much is rarely a good thing. It might be of benefit in a filibuster, but very few of us ever find ourselves in one. The prudent course is very much that of less is more. Especially in a group.

Ever notice those people who hold court at a party? They have to be the center of attention. Even if it means making a fool of themselves. I know a person like that. He launches into his monologue the moment he has even one pair of ears he can address. His speech is totally self-centered. There is no regard for the interests of the audience. The result? At the earliest possible moment, the audience is excusing itself for one reason or another.

We don’t like being around know-it-alls. There is, after all, some truth to the old saw: those people who think they know everything, really irritate those of us who do!

The solution is simple: silence. Or at least minimal talking. The fool does indeed appear wise when no words reveal the truth of the matter.

In group settings, it’s best not to be the one who always has to be talking. Speak when appropriate to do so or when you genuinely have something of benefit to say — and keep it brief. No one wants to hear a soliloquy.

The key is always balance and moderation. In a business or social setting, the norm is usually for us to say something. Just not everything.

As always, comments are welcome! And until next time, happy silence!

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The 8-Fold Path-Step 3: Be Brief

 

Today’s post and the next two posts are probably the most practical bits of advice I can offer on practicing silence every day. As you’ll see, “silence” doesn’t necessarily mean we’re silent.

Last week, in Step 2, I said we should avoid situations where we’re obligated to talk. I also noted this is often difficult to do. Today and in the next two posts, I’ll offer suggestions on what to do when we can’t avoid talking.

If I must talk, it’s best to be brief and to the point.

The older I get the more I’m convinced if we lived our lives by the Golden Rule there would be no more problems, no more turmoil, and no more angst. We would all experience the peace and tranquility we desire. And this applies to talking.

It is our nature to want to be the center of attention. Because, when we are, we feel important. We feel validated. We feel liked. And who doesn’t want to feel important, validated, and liked?

Unfortunately, and I learned this the hard way, diarrhea of the mouth actually turns people off.

Once, in Junior High School, trying to impress the gorgeous girl sitting next to me in art class, I chattered away. She finally asked me if I could not say anything for the next half hour. So much for talking producing lasting favorable impressions!

Most people don’t want to listen to us. They want to do the talking. Dale Carnegie uses this very human trait to get us to ask the other person to tell us his or her opinions and to tell us about him or herself. That’s how one wins friends and influences people.

In addition, it’s how we can live daily in the silence. If we limit our talking, if we’re brief and to the point, we promote the feeling of stillness within ourselves. If we are friendly and kind in our brief replies to others, we will promote the feeling of stillness around us.

Most people don’t want to hear our chatter, as I painfully discovered way back in 7th grade. I am full of myself and the other person is full of him or herself. An impasse!

However, by being brief and to the point and letting the other person talk, while we listen, we promote silence, gain friends, and actually end up influencing those around us.

Where I used to work was a very negative environment. The morale was in the pits. One day, I decided to exude positivity. When asked how I was, I said, “I’m great! This is such a fabulous day! How are you?” My tone wasn’t loud, but it was upbeat.

Shock was often the initial response. Some got passed the shock and went on about how they were. Others wanted to know why I was having such a good day before that first cup of coffee or tea. My response was simple, sometimes even inane. “I’m breathing air instead of dirt.” Or, “Beautiful sunrise this morning.” My point being one can be positive for basically no reason at all. Simply that we are alive. Just be happy.

After several days, others started to pick up on it. I didn’t need to say much. I just was what I wanted to see around me. My non-verbals of smiling and good posture and soft voice did all the real talking for me.

Talking is highly overrated. Be brief and to the point. Let the other person talk, although you just might find your brevity is contagious.

Comments are always welcome! And until next time, be happy and talk less!

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The 8-Fold Path-Step 2: Avoid Talking

 

Unless we are hermits or are living in an eremitic cloister, it’s going to be fairly difficult to avoid talking altogether. And I don’t think we should as long as we live in the broader human society.

Therefore step 2 on The 8-Fold Path for Living Daily in the Silence is to

Avoid situations where I’m obligated to talk.

However, we can’t always avoid talking. We have spouses or partners, parents and siblings, bosses and coworkers, customers or patients — and all of these folks generally expect us to talk to them. And to avoid them would probably cause us more problems than any amount of silence might benefit us.

Nevertheless, there are ways in which we can minimize getting ourselves into situations where we have to talk.

For example, with spouses and partners we can often substitute a non-verbal gesture for a verbal one. Touching can often communicate far more than words.

When my mother was alive avoiding verbal communication was nigh impossible. However, I could often go to a different part of the house or go for a walk. With my father, since he talks very little, there’s no problem living daily in the silence. Although, he does like music and he plays it rather loudly. That’s where those earplugs come in handy.

Work is perhaps the biggest challenge. But even there, we can pursue silence and we’ll get into this more in the next three points.

When I was employed, talking was part of my job. So it was difficult to avoid it completely. However, since my schedule was somewhat flexible, I could come in early when no one was around and leave early before the Chatty Kens and Cathys came around.

However, you may not have the luxury of a flexible schedule. If not, then over the next three weeks I’ll give you some tools that will at least promote the spirit of silence.

While work may be the biggest challenge, living with other people can be equally daunting if we want to avoid situations where we are obligated to talk. Non-verbals can help. But they can’t eliminate the fact that most people like to talk. It is then incumbent upon us to find ways where we don’t hurt feelings in order to promote silence.

Going for a walk or hanging out in a different part of the house can help. But if those don’t work, then you may just have to ask for some silence time and there’s nothing wrong with that.

As always, comments are welcome. Let me know if you have other ideas or other techniques that work for you. Until next time, listen to the sound of silence!

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The 8-Fold Path – First Step: Limit Talking

Talking. Some of us love to talk. Others of us talk very little. My mother was a great talker. My dad can go for hours without saying a peep. And if we aren’t talking there are certainly those around us who are. Then again, often our mouths might not be moving but we are talking a mile a minute in our heads.

To live daily in the silence, we must limit the talking. To enjoy the physical and spiritual benefits of silence, we must rein in our desire to talk — both to others and to ourselves.

That doesn’t mean we have to give up being friendly. Heavens no! Silence produces joy and happiness. Which means we should be friendly, sharing that joy and happiness with others. Instead of talking, our entire demeanor should be radiating joy and happiness.

But isn’t talking being friendly, you may be asking. And, yes, it frequently is. I’m not saying to eliminate friendly or positive conversation. I’m saying we need to be mindful of our talking and eliminate the unnecessary chatter.

When I was on retreat and walking the grounds or was in the library, I’d encounter others. Sometimes I’d come across a work crew. The understanding was there was to be no talking. We waved and smiled. There was no verbal communication. Those physical signs communicated plenty. There was no need to add words.

The same in the workplace. How many conversations are just idle chatter or, worse, gossip? Talk that is not positive. Talk that is not life-giving.

The goal of living daily in the silence is to better your life: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. And the easiest way to begin is to cut down on talking. Talking out loud and talking in your head.

Talking creates a lot of noise. It is however very often necessary and we’ll address more about talking and situations in the next four posts. Today the goal is simply to cut down on the amount of chatter we are putting out of our mouths and allowing in our minds. So how do we do that?

The first step is to resolve to not talk unless you have to. Resolve is important. You are telling yourself what you want.

The second step is to listen more. If you are listening — really listening — then you can’t be talking. So when you say, “Hi! How are you?” Listen to what the person tells you. Tune in to the other person. Don’t let your brain run ahead with what you want to tell them.

The third step is to put the focus on the other person, and take the focus off yourself.

Dale Carnegie in How to Win Friends and Influence People tells us the secret in doing so is to let the other person talk to you. Get the other person to tell you about him or herself. Which means you have to truly listen. And listening means no talking.

Talking puts the focus on us. It’s an essentially selfish act. It strokes the ego. The real prize, though, is letting the other person talk and perhaps he or she will praise you.

Because no one listens anymore. If you stop talking and listen, people will notice — and they’ll think you’re the best person on the planet.

There are times when we must talk. But just as often opportunity will present itself so we can then let the other person do most of the talking.

Step four is to clear the talking in our heads. This is the more difficult step. Because our brain doesn’t like to sit around and do nothing. It will pick up a snippet of conversation and begin worrying it like a dog worrying a bone and suddenly you’ll find yourself getting all worked up or agitated or angry over something that is most likely nothing.

We will deal with the mind in more detail in steps seven and eight of the 8-Fold Path. For now, when your mind is running away with interior dialogue, stop focusing on the dialogue and instead focus on something around you: your work, the clouds, a picture you like, your breathing, anything that will for you break that mental chatter.

The path to silence in our everyday lives, and reaping the benefits silence gives,  begins with quieting our own noise machine: our mouths and our minds. For some of us, that will be relatively easy. For perhaps most of us, it will be a difficult task. Difficult, but not impossible. In fact, very possible.

As always, comments are welcome. Until next time, encourage others to talk while you listen. And don’t forget to redirect that chatter in your head. Cheers!

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The 8-Fold Path: What is it?

The 8-Fold Path for Living Daily in the Silence is an 8-Step program for quieting our world — the world without and the world within.

The “Path” grew out of my own experience of silence and solitude retreats and my attempt to duplicate the peace and tranquility of the retreat environment after my return to daily life.

The 8-Fold Path does work, but as with any lifestyle change it takes work and perseverance to make sure it does work for you.

Why 8-Fold?

When I analyzed what made my retreats successful, I discovered 8 elements worked together to ensure that my time of silence and solitude was productive.

Those 8 elements are:

  1. Talk as little a possible
  2. Avoid situations where I’m obligated to talk
  3. If I must talk, be brief and to the point
  4. In group settings, remember even the fool appears wise when he says nothing
  5. My speech should be infused with the odor of silence
  6. Value silence over man-made sounds
  7. Focus on the immediate to promote silence
  8. Practice shikantaza during “downtime”

Notice the first five points of the path are about talking. If we control our talking, both verbally and mentally, those times we spend talking to ourselves, we can achieve a large measure of quietude with that alone.

Silence Starts With Us

We have total control over whether we live in a noisy world or a [relatively] silent world.

Bertrand Russell, the late British philosopher, wrote in his book The Conquest of Happiness:

A happy life must be to a great extent a quiet life, for it is only in an atmosphere of quiet that true joy dare live.

We all want happiness. We all want tranquility in our lives. We all want to feel at peace with ourselves and the world. It is the quiet life that enables us to experience joy and happiness.

To achieve that quiet life for myself, I formulated The 8-Fold Path to Living Daily in the Silence. And now I’m sharing it with you.

If we want to be happy, we must take charge of our lives. The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, the last of the great Stoic philosophers, wrote that life is what we make it to be. We are the key to what can be a fabulous future.

Daily

Russell notes a happy life must be … a quiet life. Implied in the word “life” is daily experience. This is not something one does once a month or only on the weekends. For the 8-Fold Path to produce its fruit, one must practice it every day and throughout the day to produce the silence, the quiet, which in turn produces joy and happiness.

In that sense, I’ll be the first to say silence does not come easily. Old habits die hard, as they say. However, persistence does win the day. And in a couple weeks you will begin to notice subtle differences. You might be calmer. Or less disturbed by people and situations around you. You might find your mind is less prone to chatter; less prone to worrying things, like a dog a bone.

 

The 8-Fold Path to Living Daily in the Silence can gain for you that quiet life Russell wrote of and with it joy and happiness. And who doesn’t want that?

As always, your comments are welcome. Until next time, take time to enjoy the silence.

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8-Fold Path: Silence, Where and When

Silence is the gateway to better health, both mentally and physically, as well as being the gateway to a richer spiritual life.

However, we are so busy and noise is everywhere. Where and when can we get in a little silence? I’ll cover this in more detail when I get into the eight steps themselves. For now, though, I’ll give you a few ideas for where and when you can practice silence.

Where

This is probably the easier of the two. Because you can practice silence anywhere. If you have in hand a good pair of earplugs, then you can have silence wherever you are and wherever you go. Just pop those little wonders into your ears and, voilà!, instant quiet and peace.

One place that’s easy to enjoy silence is in your car. Just turn off all the noisemaking gadgets while you’re driving. Aside from road noise, your car is a fairly quiet place. And if your house is too noisy, you can always go sit in your car. Tilt the seat back a little and enjoy the quiet.

There are also places in your house that are fairly quiet. Go there. If kids or spouse have a tendency to interrupt, tell them not to bother you for the next 10 or 15 minutes, or however long you need.

Noise is distracting. Even if it’s your favorite song. And even more so if you’re driving and talking on your phone, or dictating, or listening to a book or a report. And distracted driving has been known to kill people.

When

Where you can practice silence is rendered fairly easy thanks to earplugs. When is a bit more restrictive.

Obviously there are times we must be social. The dinner table, for example, or a team meeting. A business meeting or social gathering. And that’s okay. After all, we are social creatures.

There are, though, many opportunities in a day when one can practice silence.

Early morning or late at night are excellent times to do so. Or when one is alone. I find an early morning walk in the neighborhood park to be very conducive for experiencing silence. The mothers and their children have not yet descended upon the place.

I had times at work where I could spend a few minutes in an empty room to get a bit of quiet.

The 8-Fold Path

Next week I’ll begin going step-by-step through the 8-Fold Path. Each step will enhance our appreciation of silence, as well as gain us the peace and tranquility that comes with silence.

If you’ve had experiences with silence, I’d love to hear about them.

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The 8-Fold Path: What is Silence?

We know what sound is, both pleasant and unpleasant. What, though, is this silence I’ve been talking about? What do I mean by experiencing silence?

There are two aspects to silence. One is freedom from the external noise we all must contend with. The ever pervasive deluge of sound pounding on our ears and even on our bodies.

The other is inner silence. Wait! There’s sound within us? The short answer is yes. The long answer and what we can do about it I’ll come to in a moment.

Our Outer World

Noise pollution is rampant in our urban and suburban worlds. And we add to this noise voluntarily. The TV. Our phones. The chimes our computers make and the noise from many websites we may visit. The radio. People we associate with. Music.

External to us is wanted and unwanted sound.

The other side of the coin is silence. This may be absolute silence, the complete absence of sound, or it may be the silence of nature. I can hear you say, “Wait a minute! Nature is silent? There are all manner of sounds in the park and in the woods.” And you are right. We’ll talk about that in a minute.

Absolute silence is not easy to obtain in our modern world. A soundproof room is one way to go about it. And that is a very nice experience.

On my retreats, the cabins, hermitages, were soundproof. They were built so tightly, the retreat management advised that one should open the windows, at least a couple of them, an inch or two, in order to let fresh air in. This was especially needed if you burned candles, or used the gas light, or gas burner.

Yet even with a couple windows slightly open, I heard no external sound. There was freedom from noise, unless I made it.

Experiencing a soundproof room in a natural setting is something I think everyone should experience. It is totally awesome.

The other perhaps more easily obtainable way to achieve absolute silence is to use earplugs. I can hear you say, “What?” Yes, earplugs. There is a reason health officials recommend ear protection when you use loud noise producing tools or are in a noisy environment. Noise destroys your hearing.

When I want, or need, to reduce or even eliminate outside noise I pop in a pair of disposable earplugs. There are many different brands that reduce noise by varying decibel levels. I happen to use Hearos. The ones with a noise reduction rating of 33, which means the noise coming into your ear is reduced by 33 decibels.

I found NRR 33 earplugs highly effective at virtually eliminating noise in the office, at home, and on airplanes. What you get is silence. There are also noise isolating headphones, which for a higher price eliminate even more noise.

Natural Sound

Nature is replete with sound. Or at least can be. Crickets and cicadas on a summer evening. The crows or mourning doves can produce quite a racket. One I don’t find soothing.

But there are plenty of natural sounds that are very soothing. The wind stirring dried leaves in the autumn. The rain. A waterfall. There are, though, times when the natural world is silent. Winter is the best time to experience that or in a very isolated location like Chaco Canyon, for instance.

I’ve experienced rural winter silence. Absolutely no sound. It is spectacularly awesome and supremely peace inducing. A former co-worker said the same about her time at Chaco Canyon. The place is so remote there are times of absolute silence that will take your breath away.

Natural sounds are not bad. In fact, they are usually very good due to their soothing effect on us. Let’s face it. Our world has advanced. Our bodies have not. We’ve had very little physically significant change in over several hundred thousand years.

That’s why our world and it’s noise is so stressful. The primitive part of our brain, the part that runs all of our automatic systems, still thinks we are in the jungle, or the forest, or the savanna. And it reacts accordingly to all outside stimuli.

Even with a high degree of self-control, we still feel the effects of the “snake brain’s” autopilot responses to our world. One reason so many of us suffer from stress, anxiety, or those sleepless nights.

The sounds of nature can soothe away those feelings. And so can earplugs by eliminating the sounds that stress us.

Our Inner World

We have noisy minds. We are constantly thinking, complaining, getting even, planning our next meal, contemplating what to buy, and the list goes on. Every meditation technique is designed to still the mind. To get it to stop thinking. To stop planning. To stop worrying.

Our minds, the front part of our brains, are designed to solve problems. If our mind doesn’t have a problem to solve, it will create one. Our mind doesn’t want to be empty. It doesn’t want nothing to do.

In meditation, we basically redirect our mind to focus on something other than problem solving — real or imagined.

There are many ways to meditate. A walk in the woods or the park, where you focus on the natural world, is an excellent way to redirect the mind. To get it out of problem-solving mode.

Sitting and focusing on your breathing is another tried and true method.

My favorite is to sit and let thoughts just wander through my mind. I watch them enter and leave, as it were, not focusing on any particular one. If I sit long enough, the thoughts cease. It’s as if my mind has gotten tired of trying to interest me in a problem. That’s when my mind becomes truly silent.

Additional Thoughts

It does us little good to shut out the noise coming from outside of us, if our minds take up the slack and run rampant with inner noise. That inner noise can produce stress and anxiety just like outer noise.

The 8-Fold Path helps us to deal with both kinds of noise.

Next week, I’ll talk about where and when we can practice silence. I think you’ll be surprised at how easy it is.

Until then, unleash your inner quiet and enjoy the stillness.

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