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After Silence: The Deafening Sound & Exquisite Beauty of Quiet Places

Posted by on Aug 13, 2013


Muir Woods San Francisco

Muir Woods San Francisco

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” ~ Aldous Huxley, Music at Night and Other Essays, author of Brave New World


John Lane, painter, author and supporter of the Schumacher College in Devon, UK once pointed out that humans mix the gregarious and the solitary. We are not bees who fly in swarms nor solitary cats. Even when we spend time with others, most of us enjoy time alone. Ronald Blythe once told us as well, that noise causes us to hear very little; silence makes us hear wonderful sounds.  It is the call of silence that beckons us, but can we really handle true peace?


In South Minneapolis at Orfield Laboratories, there is an ‘anechoic chamber’ that absorbs 99.99 percent of sound. It holds the Guinness World Record for being the world’s quietest place, but the longest anyone has ever been able to stay inside the chamber is just 45 minutes. Mongolia’s Gobi Desert, or Africa’s Kalahari Desert are both almost entirely free of human-created sound, and more natural versions of the chamber in Minnesota. The Muir Woods just outside of San Francisco are relatively silent compared to the bustling city. There are still places on this planet were quiet is honored.


People who stay in silence have varying experiences. They listen to their own heartbeats and the sound of their own breathing. They have visions. Some hallucinate. Part of the reason we fear silence so much is that it removes one of our biggest sensory experiences – one that allows us to define the world we live in. Ancient yogis used a tool called pratyahara, or the purposeful withdrawal of the senses as a way not to torture ourselves, but to free the consciousness completely. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras explains the process very simply. Through removing our sense experience of this place – we can arrive at an understanding of the true reality. In Patanjali’s and others’ estimation we are living in a self-created dream. This world is only created through our senses and the dependant arising of object after object that our senses tell us exist in material form. Pratyahara is the withdrawal of the senses, but the blossoming and diving into the internal world. Developing powers of concentration, in the yogic sense, at least, are a means of waking up form this imagined world. Pratyahara is one of the eight limbs of yoga, a singular tool to discover a wealth of internal wisdom.


A less common interpretation of the Sanskrit word, pratyahara, is to ‘recover’ the senses, not withdraw them. When we observe the gross and then slowly take those observations to the minute – from the noise of fire engines and dogs barking outside to the sound of a fan blowing or a fly buzzing near our ears, to the quieter still sounds of our own bodily functions, we slowly recover a sense of our truer Selves, not the extended, reaching, grasping self that has to constantly interact with our material projections.


One of the reasons mantra are used in yogic practice, you could call them the ‘music of enlightenment’, is because, for the uninitiated pure silence is deafening. Like spending 47 minutes in the anechoic chamber, many of us would feel true silence was crushing us. As Paramahansa Yogananda once said, “The laws are known; depth in meditation comes from their patient, steadfast application.” There are many tools we can use to delve deeper into silence, but sometimes we have to take it in small doses. Withdrawing from the outer world and retrieving an inner one is no small task. Yogananda also told us:


“You may control a mad elephant;
You may shut the mouth of the bear and the tiger;
Ride the lion and play with the cobra;
By alchemy you may learn your livelihood;
You may wander through the universe incognito;
Make vassals of the gods; be ever youthful;
You may walk in water and live in fire;
But control of the mind is better and more difficult.”


Mastering silence is the closest we will ever get to pure Samadhi – or the Ultimate Bliss. Even if we can’t sit in absolute silence for an hour, we can start buy finding small, quiet moments throughout our days, and noticing when we want to fill them with meaningless noise – eventually that observation trickles into the ‘noise’ of our own thoughts, and we are able to quiet them too. We can turn off the television, put down the smart phones, and even tell our friends and family that we are observing silence. Carving just seconds out of our days to spend in this golden music -to bask in the pregnant possibility of silence is glorious.


About the Author

Christina Sarich is a musician, yogi, humanitarian and freelance writer who channels many hours of studying Lao TzuParamahansa YoganandaRob Brezny,  Miles Davis, and Tom Robbins into interesting tidbits to help you Wake up Your Sleepy Little Head, and See the Big Picture. Her blog is Yoga for the New World. Her latest book is Pharma Sutra: Healing the Body And Mind Through the Art of Yoga.


This article is offered under Creative Commons license. It’s okay to republish it anywhere as long as attribution bio is included and all links remain intact.





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