There’s hardly anything I like more than silence, especially other people’s, so when my son told me about a meditation course that included 10 days of Noble Silence, I was all over it.
Noble Silence is “silence of body, speech, and mind. Any form of communication with fellow students, whether by gestures, sign language, written notes, etc., is prohibited” for the duration of the course. Mostly, I didn’t make eye contact. I’d hold the door for you without looking at you, and you were always a guy because the men and women were strictly segregated.
The wake-up bell was at 4 a.m., and we knocked off at 9 p.m. for 10 days. For the first 3 1/2 days we focused our awareness on the breath entering and leaving our nostrils. Actually, since I had no communication with any other student, I don’t know what the others were focused on. I know only that that’s what I was doing, and knowing what I’m doing was the point. Likewise knowing what you’re doing, and knowing that no matter what we’re doing individually and collectively we won’t be doing it long, because everything just rises and passes away, and we can all relax.
Eventually I learned equanimity. Now when I sit for meditation and most of my body sensations seem to be itches and prickles, I don’t mind. The imaginary spider with the feathers on his feet stumbling around in my ear that would’ve made my eyes bug out if they hadn’t been closed also proved to be transitory—no itch is eternal. Experiencing that made it possible to be aware of the sensation and not react to it, a useful trick if you keep up with the news.
Being within yourself with nowhere else to go can turn up all sorts of things, and I can see how somebody might want to avoid that much self-scrutiny. At some point I cried about my puppy that died when I was 9, and I saw my father in a dream. If there’s a puppy or a father in your past, he can still make you cry.
Most of the effects of the course on me I’m probably still unaware of. So far, I know that evidence of the transitory nature of things is within us, and my experiencing it helps me be a more peaceful, loving person, and my peace and compassion affect everything around me. Your peace and compassion affect everything around you, too.