Ah, Simon & Garfunkel… Part of the endless soundtrack of my youth, the Sound of Silence is a haunting classic with rich lyrics that stir the imagination and move the spirit. And most recently in 2015, a band called Disturbed covered the song and did a fantastic job. Both versions stir a little something in my soul and the song is fantastic. If you haven’t heard either version, I highly recommend you fall down the youTube rabbit hole and watch both. Then, you can judge for yourself. But enough about my musical preferences; let’s get on with the point of today’s post.
Today, I’d like to talk about silence. A beautiful thing, silence. Not many of us get to enjoy it. In fact, modern life almost makes it impossible. Depending on where you live, even if you happen to be childless and live alone, you’ll still hear the residual background noise of the world around you. And sometimes, the static can get to be a bit much. This is one of the purposes behind meditation. Quieting your mind can often be achieved through intense and mindful meditation. But what about being quiet yourself? There are plenty of stereotypes about Buddhism; in fact, I’ve written posts on that very thing. But one of the stereotypes that happen to be true is that some of us choose to take a vow of silence.
Vows of silence are used in many different religions and even by some non-religious affiliates of those religions. The reasons behind it vary, ranging from simply a disciplinary requirement of the particular religious sect, forms of protest and all the way up to helping self-enlightenment and the belief that it potentially brings one closer to God. But for the purposes of today’s post, I’ll focus on what’s familiar, which is the Buddhist aspect.
In Buddhism, taking a vow of silence can certainly represent will-power and self-discipline. But it also serves as a means of being at one with your thoughts, developing a better ability to listen to others (something most people should develop) and making certain that one observes Right Speech, which is part of the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism. A vow of silence helps to ensure that you have the ability to think about what you’ll say before it comes barreling out of your mouth. This prevents you from bringing harm o yourself or others by saying something foul or negative.
Definitely, one of the main reasons one should take a vow of silence is not only to stop talking, but to quiet one’s mind. I’ve spoken about how Zen involves achieving peace and enlightenment through meditation, and this is pretty difficult with a disquieted mind. During a vow of silence, one does not simply stop talking; one needs to be aware and be mindful of one’s thoughts, eliminating the negative and focusing on the positive.
That last aspect can be a challenge, and certainly one of my own, personal obstacles during meditation. Being mindful and in control of one’s thoughts is a difficult thing, requiring years of practice and self-discipline. After all, even though focusing on nothing is still focusing on something, trying to keep the mind clear becomes difficult because the human brain simply isn’t designed NOT to have thoughts coursing through it. A vow of silence can help with that.
Contrary to some sources and popular opinion, a vow of silence doesn’t have to be a life-long thing. Some monks will take a vow of silence for a specified period of time or for specific reasons and then resume speaking. Some will simply stop using verbal communication, although most are of the belief that even written communication is a form of speaking and will avoid writing as well.
Last but not least, silence can lend some physiological benefits to the body. According to an article I found on PsychCentral.com, even just short periods of silence can help lower blood pressure, boost the immune system, decrease stress, promote good hormone regulation and even prevent plaque formation in the arteries. The article goes on to suggest a variety of ways to achieve that silence, including a walk in the woods, meditating, deep breathing (which you’ll do while meditating anyway) and my favourite, which is staying in bed an extra five minutes before getting up for the day. That last one is pointless with two young boys in the house. But I digress…
Some people aren’t big fans of being in silence. Some can even say they have a phobia of silence. Be that as it may, there’s no denying that any period of glorious noiselessness can have a variety of physical and emotional benefits and isn’t simply restricted to the religious side of things. Interested in trying it out? It doesn’t have to be a vow or last for a significant period of time. Choosing one hour every day to simply enjoy some silence can allow for all those benefits as well. Of course, I know a number of people who could definitely benefit from taking a vow and keeping their mouths shut for years. But that would mostly be for the benefit of the rest of the world. ☯