When my son was a boy, he came into the kitchen one evening in the midst of the noise and chaos of the house and proclaimed – I just need a piece of quiet! Beyond being unbelievable adorable and baby-book worthy, this request or perhaps demand communicated his sense of being overwhelmed by the noise and hustle that was coming at him from all sides. He needed to be still and to be silent.
Sometimes we all need a tranquil space, where we can gather our thoughts and calm our body and mind. The practice of meditation works to develop the ability to be still and to quiet the mind from its penchant for thinking, planning, judging, ruminating or otherwise removing the self from the current moment. Memories and re-workings of the past, imaginings and plannings for the future all remove us from the present – which ironically is all that we have.
The ability to be still, to be present, to be quiet and to tolerate quiet around us seems to be slipping away. It has gotten to the point where if quiet space is going to occur, it has to be planned. Creating quiet time means turning off the TV and the radio, even if these are meant to be background sounds. It means removing digital devices of all kinds and putting them on do not disturb so that they do not call out, tempting us and pleading for our prompt response.
As we become more aware of the space and sounds around us, it becomes obvious that shutting down external sounds does not leave us with a quiet space. It allows us to hear all of the sounds that were hidden under that initial, louder layer of noise. These include the sounds of our homes - heaters, fans, dishwashers, cars passing by. They also include the sound of our bodies - breath, beating hearts, grumbling bellies, creaking bones. Perhaps sounds of nature can be heard - birds, insects, wind, rain, a neighbor’s dog.
We can never create complete quiet but that is not the goal, Deepak Chopra puts it simply and powerfully: In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside of you. This highlights the idea of the internal space and experience verses what may be going on externally.
It is helpful to prepare a place to nurture a meditative state. There are ways to assist in the process such as sitting on a pillow, covering with a blanket, using a candle or oil to scent the space where you are sitting. It is useful to sit on the ground, establishing and enhancing our connection to the earth and to the fact that we are held by our planet; We call her Mother Earth in acknowledgment of this holding. I like to sit by a window with the sunlight on my face and body, it helps me to look at the trees outside while I settle in. What is most important is that you choose a space where you will be comfortable and uninterrupted. Setting aside as few as five minutes a day can be valuable.
Thoughts will arise naturally, even (or especially) when we are trying to clear our mind. Try not to be upset, angry or disappointed when this happens. As soon as you notice that you have connected with a thought, invite your mind to release it. You can tell yourself that if it is important, it will return to you and if it is not important, it is not needed anyway. You can think of thoughts as clouds and let them float by. You can also think of them as options on a conveyor belt, just because you notice them passing by, you don’t have to pick them up. If you get involved with a thought (and this will happen) simply release it when you are able. It is important to be kind to yourself and to notice, rather than being critical and judging.
There is something in the process of clearing the mind that deeply honors the self. We don’t need to be doing or fixing or solving or even thinking; We can simply be and this has value, we have intrinsic value. The fact that we exist means that we have a light within us, a spark, a magic, something that is unique and valuable. The Hindu custom of greeting one another with the term Namaste and the gesture of pressing our palms together with fingers facing up, placed at our heart, embodies this concept. It means, “I bow to the divine in you.” I have also heard it translated to mean: “The light within me, honors the light within you.”
In closing, I leave you with this thought, offered by author, therapist and mindfulness instructor Sylvia Boorstein, “Don’t Just do Something, Sit There.” This is not a pass on being active, and taking responsibility to make the world a better place for ourselves and our fellow travelers on this planet; Instead it reminds us to act from a place of stillness and reflection rather than to react from our fleeting and intense emotions and reactions.
Wishing you a piece of quiet.