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Silence is the first spiritual experience

We can build up a practical and correct idea of what spirituality is by considering the following experiences. When, for example, we listen to a concert, its sounds, through our ears, reach our brain and cause feelings in it, arouse an experience. This way we have two elements: the external event, that is the producer of the experience, and the inner feelings that get formed. In theory, if we were able to create in our brain, in our neurons, the whole set of activities and links created by the musical event, we would form within us the experience of that concert, but without the concert itself, without the external experience that produced our sensations. What interests me in this subject is not the search for a system to create in us the experience of concerts without having to listen to them; rather, I am interested in isolating conceptually the two elements: the external event, that is the source of the experience, and the inner experience that is created. The inner experience is what we can call “spirituality”. A similar mechanisms, with the same distinction that we have made, between source and resulting inner experience, can be realized in a lot of different ways; for example when we read a book, or meet a friend, or admire a landscape.

This way of isolating conceptually the spiritual experience leads us to note that, for a spiritual experience to be possible, an event arousing it is always needed; in other words, spiritual experience is always an aspect of a global event, it cannot occur but in conjunction with the happening of something. This also means that any spiritual experience is always dependent, determined, “colored”, by the kind of event that aroused it.

Once we have isolated cocneptually the spiritual experience, not only we can think of it as a part separated from the event that aroused it, but, even if we don’t have either the means or the intention to provoke in us the experience without its source, in some way we do it all the same, without any special means; in fact, it is a very normal activity that we all do normally: I am referring to the act of remembering, of thinking back to. Through memory we can somehow arouse again in our minds what we experienced when we heard a concert. Therefore, in this case we have a true example of a material, real, not just conceptual, isolation of the spiritual experience from the event that produced it. It remains, however, the dependence from the “coloring”, in the sense that the experience, although recovered only by memory, remains the experience of a concert, experience of music, it is not just an abstract spiritual experience without any determined content. From this point of view, the spiritual experience meant as “pure”, “as it is”, does not exist, because of what we have said above: a “colouring” event is always needed, even if it is the event of just recalling, the act of going back with our memory. Once we have clarified this, it remains possible to appreciate, we can say, the lesser, or better, different “color” of a spiritual experience produced by mere contemplation in silence. From this point of view, we can think that spiritual experience itself is cultivated and appreciated especially in pure silence, rather than in other experiences that are more conditioned by more particularistic events. This does not mean that pure silence can replace other spiritual experiences: we are human beings adapted to live in this world and, in some ways, we are not naturally predisposed to live as angels or spirits, although everyone can cultivate the emphases that they prefer.

Hello everyone. This video is connected to the article, we can say lesson or even meditation, that has as a title “Silence and spiritual experience”.

Now, when we think of silence, we instinctively think like subtracting something, subtracting noise, sound, activity, so doing nothing: this is an idea of silence, but something that is quite the opposite is suggested to me by the Italian language, because in English we say “to be silent”, but in Italian we say “to make silence”. This reminds me that silence actually is not just taking off, stopping doing things, but actually doing something, making something, producing something. It’s producing an experience, so it’s not just subtracting and make things more poor, but quite the opposite: is enriching life. So, since silence can be perceived, can be experienced like a production, a making of something, this means that it can be also received, we can even say enjoyed, it can be received as an experience, something that flows towards me, if somebody else is silent or is producing silence, or something that flows from me to other people or even to myself.

It can be compared to a concert. In a concert the player plays his instrument and actually, when we experience silence, we are interpreting it with our life, our being, our personality, and so it can be received, enjoyed can be got exactly in the way similar in a concert. This way the player interprets his silence and the receiver makes his interpretation of the silence that he received.

On this line of thoughts we can consider that silence needs anyway, needs always some kind of container. We can’t experience silence just without anything. For example, we can think that in a concert, in a musical concert, there are moments of silence or even when I’m talking now, there are short pauses of silence. So, we can think of this: that, if we have containers with things, like noises, sound, talking, in the middle of these things there is the experience of silence, like between musical notes. But, actually, what I want to say is something a bit deeper, that is, silence is not only inside the brackets that are left by the words or in the moments when the musical instruments are silent, that don’t make any sound, but silence is able to be contained in the sound itself. I mean, when I listen to a concert, silence is not only when the instruments pause, stop, but exactly when I’m listening to their notes. The musical note, the musical sound itself is able to transmit, to contain silence. How? Because, if something was prepared with meditation, reflection, a style of life, then silence dwells, inhabits the note, the word, the action, so that, in order to communicate silence, I don’t need to stop. I can communicate silence exactly in the words and not only in the moments of silence between the words. The word itself, the sound itself, the action is itself, is able to carry a message of silence.

Going on on this reflection, we can consider that, since silence is in some kind of a container, either in the pauses or, we said, in the sound itself, containers means history, containers means experiences, so my words or the musical notes of a concert or the actions, the events of life, they mean things, events, that happen over time. So, silence is not stopping, is not just in the pauses, silence is immersed in history. This means that, when I decide to have a moment of silence, is not going outside life, outside the history of the world, outside the history of myself, but exactly the opposite. Silence is part of history, silence is a contribution to build our history. So, this means that silence is in a rich and complex relationship, it is not an escaping from life, from things, from sound, but building a new, as much as possible, a new relationship of things, where relationships are built not just between sounds, between words, interpretations, but silence has its own content, its own opinion, its own word, we might say, to say to all the other things. So, while over time, while in the going on of my life I can have moments of silence that are intermingled, interrelated with the other moments of my life, this means that, over time, the experience of silence shapes me, becomes part of me and, as i said, dwells inside words, inside sounds, inside the style of my life, so that it’s like a sponge. Words, actions, sounds become like a sponge that is able to absorb inside itself the pregnancy of silence, so that words themselves, as i said, are able to carry silence, without not much need necessarily to stop. The sound itself, at this point, brings silence inside it and, since I cultivate this, I become able as well to receive the silence that is contained in the sounds, in the notes that were prepared by the composer and also interpreted by the player. All this obviously, at least in my experience, in my opinion, is an enrichment of our experience and makes everything in our life deeper, communicating something more, because, as i said, silence is not just interruptions, subtracting, but is creating new relationships with all the things that are in me. This means that, since I became like a sponge that has absorbed experiences of silence and silence is able to flow from me to other people, it becomes able to flow even to myself, so that I can listen to my own style, to my own growing up, improving, enriching, so that I am able to receive this experience of silence from other people, from concerts, from life, from the universe and even from myself.

This is a way of building a kind of something that I think is real spirituality. We can notice that, in the way I’ve talked about silence, I have not made any reference to anything that is supernatural, in another world, divine, transcendent; I have talked just about material things. I don’t deny anything transcendent, but I want just to show that actually our material experience, the history of the world, of our life, if experienced with the enrichment that comes from silence, interacting with everything, it becomes like a new universe that we can explore. It’s already present in our life, we just need to pay attention, to become educated to be sensitive to the silence that is present, we might say, actually, everywhere: it’s not just when I admire the sky with the stars, the marvelous things of nature, like the trees, the countryside. We learn to find, to see, to listen, to perceive the silence present in a lot of more things, even everywhere and to introduce our silence, have a relationship of experiences of silence and so just enrich each other and enrich ourselves.

So, I wish for everybody to have this experience that makes everything richer and enables us just to enjoy our life, mostly how it already is and we just become more able to see more things, to enjoy more things.

See you in the next meditations.

Hello, everybody. This video is connected to the article “Silence and spiritual experiences”, that you can visit in my website spi.st, “Spiritual Study”. This is a second video for the same article. We can say this video is more specifically for the experience of reading. I already said that in my experience, in my opinion, I would put silence as the first experience of spirituality, the most important, the most essential and the most common to all kind of spiritualities.

Now I would put reading at the second place in order of importance. The importance of reading - reading obviously something important, something essential, because we are in the context of spirituality - the importance of reading important books is witnessed by some religions that we can even call “religions of the book”. So, we can think of Christianity: in Christianity the Bible is the essential book for the doctrine, for life, for the spiritual experience. All the same for the Hebrews and we can think also of Islam, obviously the Quran, the essential book of that religion. So, what shall we notice about the importance of a book? But it is not necessarily a religious book: since we are in the context of spirituality for anybody, even an atheist can find an important book in any literature book or meditation book or philosophical book. So you don’t need a sacred book to have an experience, a spiritual experience based on reading.

We can even say that religious books, like the Bible or the Quran, they can be read by atheists or people who anyway do not belong to that religion, because any book can be appreciated by anybody and for sure books like the Bible and the Quran are not exclusive property of the religions. Of course they are at the basis of those religions, but anybody is able to appreciate the spirituality of another religion, another belief. We are here for a spirituality of enriching, not for a spirituality of separating from each other.

Now some notes about difficulties or risks in the experience based on a book.

One risk that most probably everybody can easily understand, and it’s even expressed by these books themselves, is the limit of the word. I mean, when we say anything by words, of course what they mean is always greater than the immediate meaning of the word, so we can say: reality or experience, life, spiritual experience is always beyond the word, so that a word should work, should be meant not like a container, although it contains something, but we should not forget that the experience is beyond the word, so that the word works rather like a finger that indicates the direction: go there! Not necessarily, because the word itself, as i said, has a value, has a power, an importance, has a life. We just need not to forget that we could be at risk of missing what is indicated by the word. I mean, it can happen that, for example, in the context of Christianity, I can be very concentrated on the Bible and forgetting to put my attention to God himself, for example. Such criticism is present in the Bible already, in the Bible itself. However, I think that this risk is not an impossible one. I mean, it’s not something that ruins the spiritual experience or limits it so much, because the word is able to negate itself. So, when I say, for example, “I try to express this, but, please, understand me, it’s not exactly what I’m saying, is something deeper, bigger, greater”. This way the word is negating itself, inviting the listener, the person, to pay attention to the fact that the reality, what is meant, the experience is beyond, so we rely on the subjective experience of the listener or of the other people.

About this problem, there is a very interesting series of stories, especially in the Bible, in the experience of Moses and Aaron. When God calls Moses to drive the people of Israel outside Egypt, Moses says “Oh, I’m not good, I can’t drive this people, I’m not good at explaining things by words, so, what shall I do?” And God insists: “You must go, because I am with you”. And Moses is still afraid: “How can I tell, how can I explain to the people what you want, what we are going to do? I’m not good at words”. At the end, God gives up. Although Moses is still, will remain the central person to drive the people of Israel outside Egypt, God says “Okay, there is your brother Aaron, he is better than you at words, so he will be your mouth, he will be your voice, so that he will be like a translator”. But, nonetheless, the origin is God and the first mediator remains Moses. What is important in this context is that the fact that the word is perceived as limited, not good at expressing, we not rarely don’t find the word although we have it in the mouth, but we can’t think of the exact word. In this context this is good, because this reminds us that the reality, the experience is different, is something else, it’s not the word. About this there is a classical music work composed by Arnold Schoenberg, the title is exactly “Moses and Aaron” and, through the music, the composer organizes this communication, this message: the melodies that are supposed to be sung by Moses are very difficult to understand, not easy, not pleasant, and this shows the difficulty of the word and even of music, while instead Aaron, when he starts singing in the music work, he is much more pleasant to be understood, to be enjoyed. But the message is: the best message, the best content, the best communicator is not Aaron, because in Aaron there is the high risk of putting the attention to the mean of communication, the instrument, the tool and forgetting that the instrument is for something else, for something different. So, Moses, with all his difficulties in finding words, in expressing the ideas, exactly for this reason is a better mean, so that he most easily leaves way, leaves space for God to communicate himself, while instead, in Aaron, the ability to find good words, expressive sentences, exactly this is a problem, because it makes more difficult to God to communicate himself and to win against the beauty of the word. So, the essence is that the word can be a medium of spirituality, exactly because it is able to negate itself.

Now another note about the word, the reading, reading a book.

I think that a good way to bear fruit in this experience of reading and living a spirituality with a book must be a path. I mean, we need to make a plan, so that we can see where am I, at what point am I, what is my growth, am I behind, am I advanced, am I going well? This usually is perceived as something really difficult from people, because it sounds like it kills spirituality, because it’s like a cage, a frame: my plan, my path. Instead, I want to be spontaneous, free, whatever happens, open to the experiences. At a certain degree this is true, because spirituality doesn’t like so much rules, laws, frames. But I think we need to be critical. Frequently, what we perceived as spontaneity, actually is just obeying to frames that are in our nature or even imposed by industry, while we don’t realize how much we are maneuvered by industry. So, I would rather think: it’s better to have a path and I even think that a path is the better protection for spontaneity, to create a real creativity, a real expression of what is inside us, without being slaves of industry, slaves or fashion, even without being aware of this condition of us.
I have even met people who sometimes, in the need of finding some orientation, some guide, they just get the Bible and open it a random page, thinking “Oh, let’s see what God is going to tell me through this random page”. This is bad, is wrong, because it means treating the Bible like something magic and the problem of magic is that magics is based on forcing God to do what I want him to do, while religion, instead of magic, is based on asking, I ask God “Please, do something, but I don’t want to force you, then I will be just listening to whatever you do, even if you do just silence”. So, it’s a nonsense getting the Bible and opening randomly “Let’s see what God wants to say me, to tell me now”. It’s a really nonsense, it’s an offense to the Bible.

Another note.

Another risk could be what is contained exactly in when we make plans with all of our good engagement, good will. The problem is that, exactly when the plan is working very well, this means that we might expect, from the experience of reading, something that should always work. This happens about the experience of praying as well, like thinking “Okay, now I need some comfort, I need some peace, okay let’s go and pray, let’s go and meditate, let’s go and read this book, the sacred book, or another book, so that I will get peace, I will gain again harmony”. This is similar to the problem of opening the Bible randomly, because it’s again trying to force the instrument, in this case is the book or the prayer, to force to give me some results, so that we might even get frustrated. At least, if we are open to what is really happening and we can think “Oh, I prayed, I read the book, but I don’t feel all this harmony” and actually this is good, because it’s not a recipe to work whenever you want, it’s not a slave at your service: “Do you want peace? Okay, let’s make peace”. But both in the context of religion and in the context of spirituality, even atheist spirituality, it’s not respectful thinking of obtaining what we want from a tool like magics or like something mechanic. Spirituality and also religion is greatly, to a great extent, based on listening. So, rather than forcing things to obtain results, it’s much better, much more authentic, much more connected to what we really are, to what really the world or other people are, an attitude of listening and letting whatever is to happen, not wanting necessarily to obtain that purpose, because otherwise there’s no listening, there is just forcing things and everything to obtain what we planned to obtain, maybe even with wrong intention, just to become again the masters of what should be obtained. This destroys spirituality, makes it like a tool to reach happiness, or harmony, or peace, or whatever we want. It’s much more authentic to adapt. If an experience of reading or meditating gives me even sadness or even confusion, okay let’s welcome it. It’s much better to be authentic rather than pretending that everything works or should work. So, rituals, obviously I’m not talking against rituals now, but just warning about risks.

Another thing that it’s good to consider is that the book, the word works like an artwork, which means like a poem, for example, that is, at a certain point, autonomous from its author. So, when I have the Bible, or any other book, I can try to work out what the author wanted to communicate to me, but this is not exactly the best attitude the best, does not create the best context, because I can’t reach the intention of the author and we can say even the author himself is unable to be aware at 100 per cent of all of his intentions in communicating. So, what is important is being based on the material word, on the book, what is written. What is the written works for me now, today, and I will try to be respectful, faithful to what is really in the word, in the book, so putting the book in its historical context, considering my historical context, my mentality, which means everything is relative and it’s just a humble work of listening and, as a hermeneutic circle, the book interprets me, I interpret the book and, yes, we can also try to think “Oh, may be the other wanted to communicate this idea”, but may be it’s not the main purpose, it is not the last purpose”, because this way we are at risk of following just our idea of what the composer, the author wanted to communicate, rather than listening, listening and listening what is in the book, there, in the phrases, in the text, in the sentences, so trying to be very respectful of the material object that is that book, that word.

So that it’s not impossible that I can find in the text something that even the author doesn’t recognize as his intention, but this is not a problem, what is important is that I can see it and I can study it, based, as i said, in the historical context and in the art of interpretation that is the art of respecting the text, its grammar, all its aspects. A lot of studies has been made, has been done to interpret the text with respect as much as possible.

Last note.

Last note is that in these experiences of spirituality, and I think that ultimately we are alone, which means even if it’s a social, collective experience, with other people, at the end I will meet just myself, my personal experience, my personal being, subjectivity. So, a community is important, because it helps me to grow, to correct my defects, to make progress, but, at the end, when I need to look at myself, I’m alone. It’s not just sadness, a terrible problem of being alone in the cosmos, in the universe. It’s a way to discover the universe, the richness that is in us.

So, these notes, I think it’s clear that I didn't introduce some solutions, but some suggestion to meditate further, even more, so that you can expand by your own work what I introduced as points that can be considered in wider horizon, in deeper ways, compared to the short video that I’ve done now.

So I wish that you will find here useful suggestions to make possible a really fruitful, really engaging and fascinating experience of what spirituality is.

See you next time