From my position in a seaside town, silence is one of the things I have noticed most during lockdown. The bird song sounds louder. The breeze carries the sound of the sea. Voices carry across gardens on the wind. I barely need to look to cross the road. It seemed fitting when my yoga teacher drew the Silence card during our class yesterday.
The commentary on the card (from Osho* Zen) says ‘now is a very precious time. It will be easy for you to rest inside, to plumb the depths of your own inner silence to the point where it meets the silence of the universe.’ I don’t know about 'easy,’ but this did seem very fitting for our current time. We seem, as a collective, to have reached a point where we’ve done the frantic rearrangements to adapt our living spaces and routines to lockdown. We’ve spent more time in our gardens, tidied, decorated or DIYed. Most of us have sunk into a slower rhythm at home, whether that’s an emptier household, emptier weekends, a reduced workload, or furlough. Or it could be slower in terms of movement – more time spent on the sofa or in bed. Initially this may have been a welcome relief for some who were stressed by the amount they had to do which has now been reduced by force. And with the adaptation to this new locked down way came lots of stress and discussion about it, how to do it, how long it will be for, what can and can’t be done.
So, Osho, we are resting inside – literally. Perhaps now is an ideal time for us to ‘plumb the depths’ of our own silence – when we are still, when we are quiet, what’s left? What’s inside? Who are we underneath the talking and the doing? Perhaps now is time for us to practice being. Not stressing or striving, just being present and aware. Open the window; hear the bird song. Allow your silence to sit with the silence ‘out there.’
This is not always easy. Especially for those of us who experience anxiety, with thoughts whirling around our minds, the idea of true silence may seem impossible, or even scary, for muting down the sounds around us seems only serve to amplify the thoughts. I’ve been there. I used to find the idea of silence both pointless and terrifying. When I did try to do it, it felt difficult and like I was failing. It wasn’t just my mind racing, but my body tensing against it and fidgeting to try and free itself from this apparent torture. Only through persistence did I manage to get the hang of it, and also realise that it’s not just about having an ‘empty head’ – that’s almost impossible for us cerebral beings. It’s about being aware of whether you’re lost in thought (which at times I definitely want to be!) or whether you’re actually here and now, experiencing the sunshine on your skin and the distant sound of children playing.
This idea of silence is similar to ‘mindfulness’ in that it’s about doing one thing at a time. Try it. Focus on the one thing you are doing, and all the things you can sense about it. But as Osho goes on to say ‘the quality of your inner silence permeates everything you do.’ It’s through presence and awareness that we are able to connect more wholeheartedly with every task – being fully present to play a game with a child, to listen to our partner recount their working day, to a relative on the end of the phone. If we are distracted or multi-tasking, we are only giving a percentage of our attention, and we have all experienced that the other way round, when someone is only half-listening to us. This applies to tasks we do for ourselves as well, from eating to taking a bath. If we are watching Netflix or scrolling through Instagram, we’re not fully noticing the flavours of the food, and we are not allowing ourselves to fully relax and unwind.
It can be difficult at first, even to remember to be present – we live in a world full of distractions and technology which follows us – into the bathroom, into the bed. Our western society values multi-tasking and excessive productivity. But it’s ok to fall silent. It’s ok to slow down. It’s ok to rest! Osho acknowledges ‘It might make some people uncomfortable, accustomed as they are to all the noise and activity of the world.’ And this has definitely been my experience. Along my journey (which is far from complete), I’ve encountered different activities and approaches which have helped both my anxiety and (eventually) my ability to rest. These range from meditation and yoga to walking and therapeutic friendships. Some people seem to need distraction of one form or another in order to function. Without it they’d be lost and flounder. I was one of these. To them, silence, or the ability to be silent can feel huge, intimidating, threatening even. Perhaps because it gives volume to anxious thoughts. Perhaps because it can be perceived as disinterest or a reaction to the last thing said. Perhaps because they aspire to it but don’t know how to reach it.
*Osho was an Indian mystic who taught his own spiritual path combining elements of Hinduism, Jainism, Zen Buddhism, Sufism, Christianity and ancient Greek philosophy, amongst others.
Author - Zoe Copeland, MFHT
With a background in education, sports coaching and mental health, Zoe began to explore more holistic avenues of helping people with a particular focus on where the mind and body meet. Zoe began her bodywork training in Sports Massage and has since studied other massage theories and techniques, as well as Reiki, to provide a holistic approach to each treatment. With specific training in women's health, trauma and scars, she has developed an intuitive practice which leaves you feeling a positive change in your body and mind after every appointment.