“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.
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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.