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There is a way between voice and presence
where information flows.
In disciplined silence it opens.
With wandering talk it closes.
You might be reading this because you've crossed paths with someone wearing an "In Silence" tag I've made. That person is attending a weekend meditation workshop I'm leading. The fact that they're wearing the tag away from the studio without my encouragement demonstrates that they're a daring and courageous (and possibly, slightly embarrassed) yogi, curious about going against the stream in our modern world - choosing silence over noise.
In a world where being an extrovert, speaking your mind, and being as productive as possible is valued, it is easy to forget that what we say matters. Our words have the potential to create happiness as well as suffering, and no matter how much we might wish something said gets forgotten, they leave an impact. Nowadays, because of technology, words can spread like wildfire, making the practice of noble silence more necessary than ever before.
As a meditation enthusiast, I love going on silent meditation retreats a few times a year. When I tell people that I'm going on a retreat, I'm often surprised that they don't flinch at the long hours of meditation I'll be logging each day or the complete renunciation of contact with the outside world. The most common reaction I get is "Silence?!? Complete silence?!?! I could never do that!"
I felt the same way before my first retreat, and I dove in head first anyway. Ironically, even though being silent was one of the things that scared me the most, it's now become one of my favorite parts of a meditation retreat.
Noble silence is a retreat practice in which a person refrains from speaking as a way to help quiet the mind and condition the body in the realm of Wise Speech, one of the path factors in the Buddha's Eightfold Path to Enlightenment. It includes refraining from intentionally communicating through notes, eye contact, body language, telephone, technology (emails, text messages, or social media), smoke signals, charades, or morse code (okay, so those last three are my spin on it). It is also includes refraining from reading and listening to music.
This may appear harsh or unnecessarily austere, but my experience has shown me that noble silence supports and facilitates the inner unfolding of insight and the deepening of meditation, and offers a level of tranquility I know nowhere else.
Those wearing the tag you have seen are not committing to the same set of guidelines as retreatants because it would make it very difficult to function in the world. However, they are encouraged to integrate the retreat practices to any degree they see fit, making this practice a personal exploration.
My practice with this has shown me that the noble silence on retreat and the silence in conversations serve as a protection - to myself, and of myself. In those moments of silence, I have space and time to observe and feel my reactions and can watch them pass. If I'm quiet enough, I can then feel the pleasant sensations that accompany acting wisely, and the unpleasant sensations that accompany unwise reactions, both of which motivate me to cultivate the skillful and wholesome.
This practice is by no means limited to Buddhists, nor those on retreat. In fact, I think it can be (and should be!) a practice we worldly folks integrate on a regular basis into our daily lives. Any time we choose silence over quick verbal reactions, we are offering a refuge to ourselves and others, where this moment, as well as the living breathing beings in front of us, is all we have, is all that matters.
Thank you for supporting their practice!