Silence. What is it? We speak of it as though we know or understand silence. But when I think about it, I am never without sound. Even when the external world is quiet, nighttime, no cars, no people talking, no birds, or perhaps out in the high desert—there are still the sounds of the body—the thudding heart, a slight ringing in the ears, the breath in and out. And yet we talk about, and seek after, silence. So what is it that we really mean?
In 2009, when I read the words of Dorothy Hunt, they stunned me: “Silence is not freedom from sound; silence is not freedom from thought, silence is freedom from some other moment.” I sat with that for a long time. When I am truly free of some other moment, the mind is not grabbing at the past or the future. Thoughts still happen—they may even run like a noisy train in the background—but disinterested, the mind comes present. And that is what Dorothy is pointing to.
Silence, redefined: it is not quiet we have been seeking after all! A closer description is stillness—but not lack of movement, that is far too limited—rather, that which does not change. Seeking quiet is only a substitute for the stillness, the steady nowness, the eternal immovability of the present moment. When I notice that, the need for quiet dissolves.
I had been pointing to the circumstances outside—as though they were separate from me—only to be brought to oneness again. That eternal immovability is always, always, here—“closer than your jugular vein,” the old Sufi saying goes. Always here, it cannot be sought. It can only be noticed. Not even that: noticing implies a separate one who notices. It can only be lived.
© Amrita Skye Blaine, 2012
photo credit: NASA