By Kay Mouradian
Originally printed in the SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 2006 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Mouradian, Kay. “Silence is the Garden of Meditation.” Quest 94.5 (SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 2006):167-169.
May the outward and inward man be at one.
Movement is inherent in humans, but its impact is as subtle as the earth’s movement around the sun. Everything is dependent upon movement, including the physical body as our hearts beat and circulate blood without our awareness. Another unnoticed movement comes into play when the physical body is silent and still—the movement of thought. But it is so faint that it is usually unobserved.
Most of us have never investigated where our thoughts originate. Where is that place in and around our minds? The key that opens the door lies in learning how to sit in active silence, but for many of us silence is a stranger.
Silence is a skill that can be likened to the skills developed in sports or the arts. Some inpiduals respond more quickly than others, while others spend hours practicing to become better. Developing the skill of silence needed in meditation demands the same quality of attention, desire, and dedication practiced by all outstanding performers. The skill of silence requires even more.
Silence is probably the highest refinement of sound. Sounds carry vibrations, and some are very heavy. Our world is not quiet and we tend to associate things with sounds; associations that often are not accurate. For example, a car just sped by and, in a flash; I saw ocean waves in my mind. Engine sounds remind me of the ocean. As I continued to write, I heard another car speed by and a red car flashed in my mind. How accurate are those pictures? Would I have seen those pictures in my mind if I had not been aware of the impact of sound on my thought process? Perhaps those pictures would have flashed through my mind, but I would not have noticed them.
How much more am I unaware of? What activity is taking place in my mind when the radio or television is blasting away, but I am not really listening? I have wondered if such unnoticed sounds play havoc with our minds and create confusion and stress in our lives. And are those heavy sounds playing a role and undermining our consciousness? Is this what H. P. Blavatsky meant in "The Seven Portals" of The Voice of the Silence when she said, "Thou shall not let thy senses make a playground of thy mind."
We passively accept noise as a way of life. For many, it conveniently drowns out the inner clamor that affects and confuses our thinking. I first became aware of the effects of noise when I started to meditate some thirty years ago. It was an uncomfortable experience. Not seeing what was around me and not being the center of my environment, I could no longer make judgments, even for something as simple as not seeing what in the room needed dusting. I had to learn to move away from the outside world and its effect upon me. It was my first encounter with silence, and it was a struggle.
I was told to "look within," but I found the phrase confusing. At the time, I thought: Looking denotes eyes and if I close my eyes, how can I see? Is there another dimension of seeing within? Does it really mean listening within, or is there another kind of sight and sound? My curiosity was aroused and as my scientific mind began to investigate, I sensed the opening of a fascinating new world.
I was a proponent of the "think positively" ideas, but to my surprise I found I had never before really understood thought. I began to see a different meaning of the term "think positively" as I explored the deeper part of my mind. I could hear myself think! I had never before experienced this, and I found it exhilarating!
Interesting questions began to surface: Could I really hear my thoughts? Does thought carry a tonal vibration? Does my sense of sight, even with my eyes closed, affect the depth of this new listening? Does the intensity of quiet affect this inner sight?
I learned to center my attention in the middle of my forehead at that space called the "mind’s eye." It was there that I discovered an interesting facet of the thought process. Thoughts originate in several places and many thoughts are active simultaneously. I realized how easy it was to be oblivious to all of them, because they tended to be floating around and feeble. They were just there.
Then I realized I could strengthen a thought, one thought, by focusing it at the mind’s eye and giving it full attention. The other thoughts then lost whatever force they carried. I would sit for hours just watching the activity in my mind. It was a fascinating experience, and I began to understand the expression "the monkey mind" and the understanding that the highest yoga is the control of the mind. More questions surfaced: Could I rid myself of what I call "my junk thoughts," such as anger or its close relation, self-pity, by watching them form? I practiced focusing attention on my mind’s eye, and one day I saw a strong angry thought-form surface. I watched it intently, without confrontation or fear, and it dissipated. Anger, which had been a bane in my life, has never plagued me since. What a gift!
I now keep my thoughts focused at my mind’s eye and so I’m aware of what thought activity is continually playing in my mind. Thoughts rule my consciousness, and just as junk foods pollute my body, I know that junk thoughts pollute my mind.
Becoming curious about how others perceived this concept, I experimented with the community college students enrolled in my yoga class. I discovered most of them had a difficult time focusing at the mind’s eye. Those students able to consciously bring thoughts to this space said those thoughts tended to be positive, while negative thoughts seemed to emanate from elsewhere. Some complained of the onset of a headache. I wondered if a possible explanation was that these frontal brain cells had never been stimulated with conscious use, therefore the intense concentration may have caused tension.
Our educational system has trained us to assimilate knowledge passively, and if we change from that passive pattern to an active effort to investigate, the brain cells have to be reeducated, which may be possible through active silence. Mouni Sadhu in his book Meditation gives an interesting explanation of this concept, as he says:
would like you to know the difference between ordinary school and university studies that we pass through, and the study of meditation. From the beginning, with the former, we will fill our memory with appropriate material and gradually extend our abilities of understanding, combining and judgment, all of which affect the brain cells comparatively gently and indirectly. I say indirectly because memorizing the alphabet touches only one side of the working brain, while leaving others at their ease. When we pass on to say, mathematics, then another part is affected, and so on. Moreover, our brains are accustomed to working this way, not only during our present childhood, but because of our mentally educated brains from former lives, although we may not realize this or recognize this, but the fact remains.
However when we commence meditation, it is no longer a swallowing of information, or standard activities. For then we begin to impose vibrations on the whole of our thinking apparatus, to compel it in a way that is new and unusual for it, to create vibrations along a specially chosen line, under the strict control of awareness, while using the power of concentration.
Then the cells have quite a different matter with which to deal. All of this produces tension in them, which parallels the same in your consciousness. So that is why we should be careful, and not overcharge our mental vehicle.<70-1)
Years of hard meditative work helped me become aware that I could rid my consciousness of anger, fear, greed, unkindness, harmfulness, and love of power before those junk qualities became encrusted. So for those of us who care about reeducating and or retraining our brain cells to clear our consciousness of these kinds of "junk thoughts" by focusing at the mind’s eye, we may want to consider an Edgar Cayce reading that says,
For the mind is both spiritual and physical in its attributes to the human body, and if ye feed thy body-mind upon worldly things, ye become worldly. If ye feed thy mind upon those things that are His, ye become His indeed. (Reading 1992-1)
Descartes’ famous quote "Cogito ergo sum" (I think, therefore I am) carries deep significance, but most of us have no idea what thoughts are floating in and around our heads. For those students at Mouni Sadhu’s "university level" who have developed their ability to concentrate and activate deep silence in meditation, it is possible to discover what thoughts cause disruption in our lives and then, with intense concentration and without fear, watch them dissipate in nothingness. It can be a promising gift. But remember Mouni Sadhu’s warning that this kind of intense meditation could be harmful to those who are not ready.
Blavastksy, H.P. The Voice of Silence. Wheaton, IL; Theosophical Publishing House, 1973.
Sadhu, Mouni. Meditation. North Hollywood, CA; Wilshire Book Company, 1978.
Cayce, Edgar Reading. 1992-1. The Association for Reasearch and Enlightenment. www.edgarcayce.org.
Kay Mouradian, Ed.D., is a retired professor of health and physical education from the Los Angeles Community Colleges. A long-time student of Theosophy, she is author of Reflective Meditation(Quest Books, 1982) and her first novel, A Gift in the Sunlight: An Armenian Story is available from amazon.com . She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.