“I’ve begun to realize that you can listen to silence and learn from it. It has a quality and a dimension all its own.” ~ Chaim Potok.
Today was my first time practicing mauna: a vow of silence. Mauna means to practice silence and use the time to observe thoughts and the behaviours of the mind. As this article explains there is more to mauna then not speaking: if we control our speech we control our minds, our thoughts: we reduce our ego. We are able to witness the world around us, purify the senses and act instead of react.
The first thing I noticed was how good I felt! Lao Tzu once said “silence is a great source of strength” and after just 24 hours of not speaking I can see this clearly. There were so many moments when I could have spoken (and accidentally did, once or twice) but I mostly managed not to. That felt powerful. We waste so much energy commenting here and there or arguing, so much so that often our words don’t hold any weight.
I did communicate and interact a little but I found I actually preferred not to. If you explore this post about mauna you will regard a useful chart including interacting and talking with others. It explains that even if we don’t speak we will still use energy to email or even to read. So ideally one would practice yoga and mediate for the majority of the time one practices mauna. As I was attending the Level One Intensive at Agama, I practiced four hours of meditation and yoga daily and I also attended lectures in the evening: all of which enhanced and supported my mauna experience. When I had a break I read a little, wrote a lot and lay at the beach with my friends. As they chatted away I couldn’t help but realize how we mindlessly talk. This isn’t to say their conversation wasn’t interesting, I just found myself mentally trimming the fat and listening to what really needed to be said, after all, often we are reading and listening between the lines when we have conversations.
I also found I would trim down my own thoughts. The mind is like a monkey with a miniature symbol bashing away trying to get attention in any way it can. I found myself super charged with creative energy during this practice and I think it would be ideal to practice mauna if you felt a creative block on a project. That said,it only works if you observe. If you allow the mental monkey to takeover and go wild with your imagination you may as well not be practicing silence. Rather, from my experience, it is better to observe the thoughts and ideas that come up and mentally sift through them. Which ones will serve you? Which ones could you act upon that would enrich both your life and those around you? Observe your thoughts, become aware of them and then let them go. By practicing this I became so focused and concluded that talking can often distract, even if you think what you are saying is necessary.
As a female I have often worried that to be silent is to be implicit, to be a doormat. Even a sign of oppression. Through this experience I have understood the value in silence; the heavy power and energy it brings, as Sarah Dessen summarizes: “Silence is so freaking loud”. I have felt a slight shift internally; the desire and need to be outspoken has softened (slightly!) and I have actively been holding my tongue. Instead of doing this to not offend others or because I feel like I shouldn’t, I have been doing it because I choose not to put my energy into that particular comment or remark. This has spread to my thoughts too: as someone who has been practicing mindfulness for some time I am aware of many of my thoughts throughout the day. I have found since this short time of silence, that I am better able to separate my mind from my self and therefore decide where my energy will go. Do I wish to flow from a negative thought,to negative words and actions? Or do I bring awareness and stop the thought in its tracks? Mostly I have been choosing the latter and my mind has been a lot more peaceful because of it. So many times we create problems for ourselves without even being aware of it. It’s time to get out of our own way.
The last remark I will make stems from the wise words of Leonardo da Vinci who claimed “nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.”This makes sense as one of the biggest observations I made when I first began teaching English in Korea is that raising my voice or shouting at the children in my classes is futile; they would only speak louder and then I would try to match it and in the meantime the environment became increasingly chaotic. Now I rarely raise my voice but instead practice silence. If I am silent the class knows they have miss behaved: a quiet hush falls and the chaos is disembodied.
So I invite you to welcome a little silence into your life. If you have practiced mauna before or have some thoughts on the subject please comment below as I would love to hear your experiences. I have gained so much just from one day and I am determined to make it an exercise I do at least once a month, building to once a week. Perhaps you would have the luxury of a whole day (or even a 10 day retreat) to practice, or maybe you could be silent first thing in the morning whilst your family sleeps and you roll out your yoga mat. It may even just be a few minutes in meditation, as you walk to the office or wait for the kettle to boil. I think that even just a silent snippet daily could improve your focus and concentration and allow you to practice being more present.