What is silence? Does it simply mean a lack of sound? If we don’t hear anything with our ears, can we call it silence? Not necessarily so.
In silence, we often hear various sounds, which are sometimes noisier. We even suffer from loud noises in silence. Why is that so? Because in the quiet place, our mental sound keeps on bothering us.
There are several types of silence. One is physical, and another is mental. Still, there could be more such as spiritual and beyond.
Physical silence is objectively attainable. In the physical world, sound means the vibrations that travel through the air and another medium: the fewer sound waves, the quieter to attain silence.
Physical silence is precious. Traditionally, we value it to make ourselves calm down and feel sacredness. We call it peaceful, solemn, serene, and the like to signify the religious, spiritual ambiance. We can experience it in churches, temples, mosques, and other sacred places, especially the traditional ones.
In tribal communities, people spend sacred moments in the deep woods, remote wilderness, mountain peaks, and so on. In this sense, mother nature is one of the best sources of such silence.
Why do we seek these physically silent locations? Is it because these places support mental calmness as well? The answer is yes, and no.
We can indeed sense a sacredness in these silent places to some extent. We feel religious and spiritual sensitivities with these external environments. On the other hand, however, we also hear different sounds inevitably, and even suffer from them. That is our mental noise.
Ironically, in a physically quiet place, our inner voice becomes more and more active and destructive. Suddenly, our inner self starts talking to ourselves, and it is often hard to control it. Paradoxically, we suffer more in silence from our louder inner voice.
It is the basis of our self-consciousness. In silence, we tend to think of our past and future. Why did I do that? Can I do this tomorrow? Talking with our inner self, we regret and worry. Also, we tend to be over-conscious of ourselves. Am I good? Am I bad? And we love and hate ourselves too much. In the extreme self-love and self-hatred, we kill ourselves or others. Our mental noise is destructive and dangerous.
That is why there are such techniques as positive thinking and positive affirmations. The principle here is to make our inner voice as positive as possible. If our mental noise always sounds encouraging and supportive, perhaps we won’t suffer from them. It is a sort of effort to overwrite positive statements to cover up all potentially negative, destructive inner self-talks.
Prayers also have the same function. That is the reason why we pray hard in silence. In prayer, our effort is to talk with God or something transcendental, instead of our self-consciousness. And there are various statements of traditional prayers, which consists of thoughtful, insightful, time-tested phrases, and sentences.
Or rather, we must be in silence first. In silence, we have only two choices. One is to indulge ourselves with our inner voice. The other is to devote ourselves to prayer. Quite often, we fall into the former. That is why in silence, we suffer.
Even Jesus was in-between. We can recall his prayer and agony in Gethsemane. After the Last Supper, Jesus himself knew what would happen to him. With his disciples, then, he went to a place called Gethsemane. And asking his disciples to stay there, Jesus went further to be alone in silence. And he prayed.
Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.Matthew 26:36-39
It was indeed Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane. His inner voice kept on talking to himself, saying, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” While that was what Jesus told his disciples, it is apparent that was his inner voice and agony as well.
In these extreme circumstances, any possible affirmations would be not enough, even useless. Can you encourage yourself to say you can do it! Does Jesus got crucified in the positive, optimistic, mental attitude saying “Yes, we can!”? Of course not. He just prayed hard. He surrendered himself totally in prayer and silence unto God’s will.
And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.Matthew 26:39
To understand God’s will, we must be in silence. But silence alone is not enough. It is rather dangerous to amplify our self-consciousness. In silence, we must pray. We must pray hard, that can erase our self-talk. In ardent prayer, we can forget ourselves.
Even on the cross, the following words Jesus uttered were not his self-talk in despair. But, he prayed. He cited the words of God.
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?Matthew 27:46
That was his prayer citing Psalm 22.
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?Psalm 22:1
And Psalm 22 ended as follows:
For the kingdom is the Lord’s: and he is the governor among the nations. All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul. A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation. They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.Psalm 22:28-31
Image by falco