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Saturday 19 November 2011

The Wisdom of Silence

The Wisdom of Silence
By Nigar Ataulla
A few days ago, a friend returned from a ten-day Vipassana meditation course, which involved maintaining complete silence. No talking, no use of the mobile, no eye contact or even communication through gestures, even with the other participants. The day began at 4 am, with meditation focused on breathing and observing the body. It had nothing to do with dogmas or religion-based rituals, and was open to people of all faiths and of no faith at all. The purpose was to help individuals reflect on themselves and look inward and to silence their minds, apart from silencing their talkative tongues. From 4 am to 9 pm, the whole day was spent on meditation and in complete silence. Their meals were regulated and austere so that their minds remained feather-light.
This reminded me of my kindergarten days when our teacher would instruct us to keep ‘fingers on lips’. But, as we grew older, the importance of silence was forgotten and the focus was now on how much we could talk. The more a kid spoke, the smarter he or she was thought to be. As the kids grew into adults, they talked even more incessantly. In a group of adolescents and adults, it is the silent one who is always picked out and marked out as supposedly ‘dumb’ and ‘stupid’. The talkative ones get away even if what they speak is sheer nonsense. Human beings love talking, their tongues have to be always busy wagging about something or the other, even if those they talk to are simply not interested in what they have to say. After a point it becomes a virtually controllable obsession and a means to constantly reinforce one’s ego. Some people love to be always on the phone chatting away. Others crave to be the “star talker” and steal the limelight among friends, in meetings or in office or at home. In social events, ‘members on the dais’ simply itch to have their turn to speak, stretching their allotted two minutes to two hours!
Keeping silent in our times is no easy matter. It needs constant vigilance to restrain oneself from the temptation to constantly speak, to give vent to the mental chatter within. If one deeply studies the lives of saints, sages and prophets of the past, one realizes that these people talked less and worked more. They moved others through their silence. And so, we do not have records of long speeches by them, mostly just short and sweet words that touch the heart. This wisdom they must have attained through long periods of meditation and silence.
One may ask how, with today’s hectic pace of life, and armed with so many gadgets to communicate, one can one possibly remain silent at all? Well, that’s exactly what they do in the Vipassana meditation course, remaining silent for ten whole days and giving rest to their tired tongues, which are otherwise always working 24x7. It calms the mind, and helps one become aware of oneself and takes one on the journey within.
The ten-day silence enjoined upon those who take the Vipassana meditation course may be too much for the regular workaholic to handle, who simply cannot rid himself of the obsessive-compulsive urge to remain ‘connected’ to others. But the least one can do is to take some time off every day—half an hour to start with—to simply maintain complete silence—of the tongue and the mind as well.  Become kindergarten kids for some time again—keep our “finger on lips” and realize the bliss of silence amidst the deafening din of the ceaseless chatter we are bombarded by.

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