“Silence is essential. We need silence just as much as we need air, just as much as plants need light. If our minds are crowded with words and thoughts, there is no space for us.”
~Thich Nhat Hanh
Sarah and I recently returned from a three day silent retreat at the Krishnamurti Center in Ojai, California. Having never gone a single day in my life without speaking, I must admit that I was somewhat skeptical going in. What could possibly be gained from sitting in silence for hours on end, doing absolutely nothing? Nevertheless, I went in with an open mind- at the very least, it was a chance to have a nice long rest.
We arrived on Friday afternoon and got settled into our accommodation. We then walked up a winding path through a beautiful orange grove to a large meditation hall at the top of the property. After a short introduction from the retreat facilitator, she rang a bell and we were plunged into silence. I was surprised that we were not given any instructions on how to sit or how to breathe or any tips about the best way to meditate. I later learned that Krishnamurti did not teach any method at all, other than to sit silently and simply observe what comes up for you.
We were given a small booklet with a few short quotes by Krishnamurti which I found quite helpful. “Is there a reality that is not put together by thought?” he asks at one point, which is something I’d never really thought about. His theory is that the stillness you are seeking is beyond thoughts, beyond the chattering of the mind. As such, no amount of mental effort will help you get there.
He points out that we mistakenly divide our minds into two parts, with the so-called higher self attempting to control the lower self. As Krishnamurti would say, if these two entities do exist inside of you, are they not also a product of thought? In the same way, seeing yourself as a seeker of inner peace or as the observer of your thoughts creates further mental divisions which prevent you from experiencing true peace. “The moment there is an observer,” he explains, “silence is not.” The idea being that the observer and the observed are, in fact, one and the same.
With this in mind, I sat quietly on my cushion for three days and made no attempt to control my thoughts. What I discovered is, much like how a muddy puddle becomes clear if it is left undisturbed for long enough, eventually all the thoughts that muddied up my consciousness settled down and my mind was still. That is, for fleeting moments, the silence on the inside became a reflection of the silence experienced on the outside. It was like a brief glimpse into the original state of the mind- before it became identified with ego and form.
Of course, the moment you think, “Hey, check it out- my mind is still,” it no longer is, and you are back to square one. However, it’s not about how long you can sustain inner silence, it’s about recognizing stillness as your mind's natural state. Silence is found at the core of your being, beneath a tangled web of thoughts and feelings. It’s the background against which all mental activity takes place. Silence is not something you can capture or control- it’s something that you fundamentally are. So, in the quest to find inner peace, don’t get too caught up on methods and techniques. Sometimes the best way to find stillness is simply to get out of your own way and allow what is already present to shine through.
The Symphony of Life
“Impermanence is a principle of harmony. When we don’t struggle against it, we are in harmony with reality.” ~ Pema Chödrön
Living in harmony with reality is one of the main goals of spirituality. To live in a state of surrender, free from internal struggle or conflict. One of the biggest roadblocks to achieving internal harmony is the terrifying realization that, one day, your life will come to an end. As beautiful as life is, it can't go on forever. But being aware of your mortality doesn’t need to be a source of stress and anxiety. By coming to terms with the impermanence of existence, you can find even greater harmony within.
All life in the universe is subject to impermanence, it’s a necessary component of existence. Imagine what the world would be like without impermanence keeping things in balance- we would quickly be thrown into chaos. Simply put, without death, life would not be possible. But, if impermanence is an essential ingredient of life, then why does it cause us so much suffering? As Thich Nhat Hanh once said, “It is not impermanence that makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not.”
Resisting impermanence leads to the feeling that time is running out. The realization that life is halfway over, for example, can lead some people to have a midlife crisis. The question is, do you really want life to be never ending? When your favorite song comes on the radio, do you wish it would go on forever? While the song is playing, you don’t get hung up on the fact that it will eventually be finished. You also don’t start to panic at the halfway point, you just appreciate the middle part of the song. Likewise, you don’t get upset when the song is over, you are just happy that it came on in the first place.
So, don’t let yourself get weighed down by your own mortality. All good things must come to an end. No matter where you are in the symphony of your life, the most important thing is to enjoy the music.
A Cure for the Winter Blues
“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.” ~Anne Bradstreet
This week’s quote is for those of you who are struggling with the winter blues. While it’s perfectly understandable that you feel down during the winter months, it also isn’t necessary. In life, one of the most common causes of suffering is wanting things to be different than they are. Most people don’t like being cold so, whenever it’s cold outside, they reject it and wish that it was warm instead. This rejection of reality continues until the seasons eventually change and it starts getting too hot. Now it’s the heat that gets rejected and resisted in favor of cooler temperatures.
What people forget is that we are living in duality, one in which nothing can exist without its opposite. Just as there can be no experience of light without the presence of darkness, there can also be no experience of heat without the existence of cold. Like up and down, these pairs of opposites have a codependent relationship- one cannot exist without the other. You would have no concept of good weather, for example, if bad weather never occurred. Similarly, you cannot appreciate happiness having never experienced sadness or pain. So, rather than rejecting experiences that don’t match your version of how reality should be, appreciate them for showing you what the other end of the spectrum is like. We all need to endure the occasional unpleasant experience in order to be grateful for the times when things are going well.
"Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude." ~ Martin Luther King Jr.
This week’s quote by Martin Luther King Jr. brings up an important point. While we all aspire to live from the heart, remaining in a state of love requires constant vigilance. Living in a continuous state of forgiveness is one of the most effective ways to keep yourself centered in the heart. Not just occasionally forgiving those that have wronged you, but forgiving everyone, at all times, no matter what happens. As Reinhold Niebuhr puts it, “Love is an act of endless forgiveness. Forgiveness is me giving up my right to hurt you for hurting me. Forgiveness is the final act of love.”
Perhaps the best part about forgiveness is that it allows you to be free from the chains of the past. Not forgiving someone who has hurt you feels like a heavy weight on your chest, a burden that you carry with you wherever you go. This emotional weight can color your reality, blocking you from fully experiencing the joy of life. Forgiveness means that you feel so secure in your own energy that you no longer seek revenge or retribution upon those that have wronged you. True forgiveness allows you to put down your burden, to release your emotional weight and move on with your life with a newfound lightness of being.
So, the next time you find yourself getting upset by the actions of others, see how quickly you can move into a state of forgiveness. It might not change what someone just did to you, but it will reduce the amount of suffering you must endure as a result. Don’t think of forgiveness as an act of weakness but rather as an act of strength- one of the highest expressions of love there is. Instead of taking things personally, practice radical forgiveness in which you instantly forgive others, regardless of the circumstances. And keep in mind that, oftentimes, the person in your life that is most in need of your forgiveness is you.
Every Day is New Year's Day
"As we wish each other a Happy New Year, let us determine to be more sincere, compassionate, warm-hearted human beings, trying to make our world a more equal place. That way we'll actually make it a happy year." ~Dalai Lama
Welcome to the new year, full of exciting opportunities and possibilities! The best part about a new year is that you can hit the reset button on life. You can put everything that happened to you last year squarely in the past where it belongs and enjoy a blank slate for the year to come. It’s like wiping all the chalk off a messy chalkboard and being left with a nice, clean canvas upon which you can create a whole new work of art.
That’s why now is the perfect time to set intentions and make healthy resolutions. The story of 2023 hasn’t been written yet, and there is no reason why this year's story needs to be the same one you told last year. This year can be anything you want it to be, as long as you set positive intentions and have the will power to follow through on them.
Of course, the day that we celebrate the new year is completely arbitrary. Our whole measurement of time is derived from our planet revolving around the Sun. We have collectively chosen a specific point on the Earth’s elliptical orbit and, whenever our planet completes a full revolution and returns back to that agreed upon point, everybody cheers and welcomes new beginnings. The thing is, we could have chosen any point on the Earth’s orbit as the official reset point, we just happen to have gone with January 1st. From this perspective, any day of the year could be New Year’s Day. Every day you wake up you are given the same blank slate- the same opportunity to clean your proverbial chalkboard. Regardless of the date, you are always given the opportunity to put the past behind you and take steps to manifest a better future for yourself.
Happy New Year everyone! Thank you for reading- we appreciate you! Looking forward to another year of self-discovery as we continue walking the pathless path together. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if there are any topics you would like covered in future blogs or if you find any inspirational quotes that you like. We'd love to hear from you! Thanks for being a part of our community!
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About The Author
Nick Hughes is a massage therapist, yoga instructor and co-owner of Well Being. Influenced by the ideas of Alan Watts, Eckhart Tolle, Ram Dass, and Deepak Chopra, Nick presents his unique take on human existence with the goal of helping others live a happier life.