Silence as a guide to spirituality
Similarly to what happens about spirituality in general, silence as well is to be treated as an object that is neither good nor bad in itself. Practicing it without any critical attention aimed to best exploit its potential, can reduce it to unnecessary or even frustrating waste of time, so much that it becomes a hated enemy, or something causing discomfort or even fear; it doesn’t necessarily happen, but it can; it is like dialogue: dialoguing without any preparation, without any mental equipment, can turn the attempt into nothing more than an occasion of conflicts; it is not always and necessarily the case, but it happens.
It is worth pointing out that attention and preparation do not coincide with the use of techniques: the practice of prepackaged techniques contains the risk of diverting from listening to ourselves and reality. No technology in the world can take the place of our self, our unique sensibilities. The technique leds us to focus on the need to solve a problem from the point of view of the outward results, making us forget that there is always something that is more important than any problem; this something, as I just said, is our sense of “I”, is certain feelings that each of us in the world possesses in a specific way, is the unique ability of everybody to notice things that no technique will never be able to let us notice. This does not mean that techniques are always and all to be prohibited: on the contrary, for those who understand what they are likely to make us lose sight, they can help to refine just the consciousnesses from which otherwise they would divert us.
I hinted that silence should not be idealized, we must not be in the illusion that the more we do it, the more special and superior things will happen in us; some time ago I was surprised that a highly respected hermit, effectively cultured and fairly well critic and intelligent, told me that he did every day just a few hours of silence. Now we must not slip on the cliché that quality is what matters; what matters is everybody’s personal path; for someone it may be optimal, to reach the maximum of fruit, making only a few minutes of silence every now and then, others will be more inclined to live it for whole days; what matters is not to take away from our mind the idea of becoming supermen; what we need to become is the best for our being and this is known only in the course of a path; moreover, the measures and the most suitable qualities for us may change in different periods of our lives.
Once cleared the field from fanaticism and illusions, it can highlighted that silence is anyway a practice of immeasurable importance, with enormous potential for our growth and the creation in us of a spiritual experience. Some notes can be useful here for a first start of familiarization with it.
The first one is that silence does not mean reflection, although it is favored when silence is there. Reflection is another thing, it has other purposes and methods, it does not have as its first horizon to create within ourselves an inner experience; this is not at all excluded, but it is not the primary purpose. It follows that approaching to the silence in order to live the experience of it means to avoid to get to reflect; this does not mean to forget everything, to get away from the world and from life: I believe that the Psalms are masters in the fact that the praying person, in his prayer, does not forget his worries, the things that touch more his heart, even people he hates. No reflection means rather leaving apart for a while the effort to find solutions to problems and living them instead as feeling, emotion, feeling that runs through us. A way to set aside a nagging thought can be putting it in writing, so as to have the peace of mind that it will not be forgotten; for the moment, however, we want to experience silence and then we will leave also flow in mind that disturbing thought, but not to think about how to react to it or how to solve it.
A second note concerns the attempt to not block any thought that appears in our mind; this is very useful to know ourselves. This is not claiming to penetrate in our unconscious while being awake: it is so deep that even our night dreams do not enter it completely; it must only be a modest attempt to let our mind go and let it experience a bit of freedom.
As to the length of the silence, as I said, I had better be totally free and spontaneous, to avoid hostilities with it; if we want, we can also experience determining in advance how much it should last, but I don’t consider useful, at least for me, making this a stable standard to which submit ourselves. We can set a minimum of continuous silence to live every now and then, for example five minutes every week, but it is not necessary the best aiming to make it more and more prolonged and frequent. Claiming to be able to live long silences could have as a negative result making us haughty and proud about our higher spiritual capacities, which will only instantly contradict them and make us hypocrites.
As we enter, unpretentious and without haste, in the taste of silence in the the most suitable manners and measures for ourselves, we will experience that, after the first few minutes, it happens such as when a glass of cloudy water is put to rest: the heavier elements start going down to the bottom, others remain more on the surface and this way it becomes possible to distinguish more clearly in our mind things that seemed secondary or were submerged with distractions, becoming completely invisible and ignored, whereas they deserve attention, and vice versa.
As with all things, the continued practice over the years will then create in us the taste, the flavor of what we experience, even though in the attention to avoid complacency.