This is the fourth episode in a journal chronicling my silent journey during Silent Awakenings.
“Without silence there cannot be any real appreciation in life, which is as delicate in its inner fabric as a closed rosebud.” Deepak Chopra
Pre-Dawn Meditation – My path to sunrise meditation was lit with crystal clear moonlight peeking through feathery clouds. Again, it was warmer than expected and I enjoyed a restful group meditation with the sounds of nature getting louder bit by bit as creatures woke up. Of course, Mr. Raven is the jolting, screeching alarm for the entire complex, always a few minutes before meditation is over; the jokster.
Pick a Chair – I decided to try chair yoga this morning. The room is in the middle of the pines and a fire was blazing. I enjoyed the gentle folds, twists, and lunges using the chair for support, and figuring out how to utilize my EmbodYoga™ training in each pose. I especially liked savasana with my legs up on the chair. I may do this again tomorrow.
Morning Meditation – During this morning’s group meditation I simply focused on my breath again. The silence was calming, and I slipped into the gap. Our session was over before I knew it. Not using a mantra has been a big shift for me in my meditation practice. Mantra literally means “Mind Tool.” It means what it is and can be useful or not. Not using my mantra this week has given me a freedom to open up and be OK with the outcome.
I feel like I need to give you a little background on my mantra. In Primordial Sound Mantra (PSM), we are given a personal mantra that is the vibration the earth was making the moment you were born. There is an algorithm that determines the vibration based upon the exact time and location you were born. There are 108 different vibrations. Unless you are trained specifically in PSM, you only know your personal mantra. To give you sense of what I’m talking about, imagine the vibrations for balancing chakras – LAM, RAM, VAM, etc. There is a special ceremony, all in Sanskrit, when you receive your mantra. We are allowed at the end of the ceremony to ask any questions, in English, that we might have. I had just one, and it was this, “Seriously? That’s the sound the universe made when I was born?”
Looking back on it, I feel really sorry for the gentleman who did my ceremony. He was probably dreading it and I certainly didn’t help with my reaction. Without sharing with you my personal mantra, I can tell you that, while not spelled like it, it is pronounced like a word in the English language that no one wants associated with their birth. He knew exactly how I felt because his response was, “I promise, it isn’t spelled like that.”
Well, I’ve played around with my personal mantra, changing the pronunciation, fiddling with over and over again. When I first received it, I spoke to one of my teachers at Chopra who taught meditation to double check that the pronunciation was correct. He simply told me to “Get over it.” Not what I expected to hear – AGAIN – but now I realize that he was right. It has only taken two years, but I’m over it.
“We need silence to touch souls.” Mother Theresa
Awaken to Silence – This morning’s session was on silence. They had to include this one, right?
We can all agree that life in general is very loud. In fact, there are so few other guests here at Asilomar that the speaking ones really stand out. (The staff is very experienced with silent retreats and has pen and paper ready for us if we need something.) One woman arrived today, and her voice carried all the way to Carmel (Maybe an exaggeration?). Her voice was so loud and jarring that I chose to leave the comfort of the fireplace in the lodge where I was reading. I’m not ready for the regular speaking world yet. I don’t think, however, that I’ll ever be ready for her voice.
We tell stories to connect with our community (which makes it get louder and louder). These stories are our thoughts. We begin to connect these stories with ourselves and believe that we are our thoughts. Pratyahara, the conscious withdrawal of the senses, gives us the means to break free of these patterns through silence. (Pratyahara is the fifth limb of yoga as described by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras.) Just like fasting is good for the body, silence is good for the soul.
Mauna is a Sanskrit word that means “silence.” In the context of yoga, it is the practice of not speaking, which heightens other senses. When verbal communication ends, the yogi is better able to observe the world around him/her without the distraction of conversation and, ultimately, turn his/her reflection inward.
“When we spend time in silence, we can hear the voice of our soul whispering its sacred message and encouraging us to make choices that bring us more happiness, health, love, meaning, and peace.” David Simon
As a sadhana, or discipline, mauna strengthens willpower and self-control. Mauna can be observed for a short period of time daily or for a longer period of days at a time for more advanced yogis.
Swami Prabodhananda Saraswati calls mauna a “fast for the mind.” Just as a fast from eating cleanses the body, mauna clears the mind and frees mental energy. By eliminating conversation, the yogi can focus on inner communication and self-investigation.
Historical Indian texts also reveal that Absolute Reality (Braham) is beyond the human capacity for speaking and thinking. Silence is the only way to understand this concept and eventually feel at one with the universe.
Physical mauna, then, transitions to inner silence, or antar mauna. This antar mauna calms an overactive mind and promotes mindfulness and spiritual growth, which allows the yogi to reach a state of self-awareness and union with the Higher Self (unconditioned self or I). (www.yogapedia.com)
According to Deepak, there are four simple steps one can take:
- Stop talking.
- Be introspective.
- Develop inner silence.
- Allow mauna to happen.
This week I have noticed that silence dissolves the barriers between us and others. Without our need for recognition or validation, we can see the silence in others. It awakens compassion and kindness. Conserving speech makes it more valuable. Before we speak, answer these questions:
- Is it necessary?
- Is it true?
- Is it kind?
If you can answer “yes” to all three, then speak. If not, put a plug in it.
“There is no judgement or rules in silence. There is only being.” Rochelle Barcellona
17-Mile Field Trip – Hillary, Pam and I took our silence on the road this afternoon with a silent tour of 17-Mile Drive. The weather was stunning, bright and sunny, yet crazy. One stop was toasty warm, and we’d peel off our layers, walk around the corner and we’d be freezing. We just went with the flow. (And, by the way, we weren’t breaking silent retreat rules. Our free time was up to us.)
I wrote us notes to be able to flash at people if they asked us questions or we needed to communicate. The few people we interacted with were sweet and accommodating. What a different experience to stand before the ocean and witness nature’s marvels in silence. I felt like everything was more magnificent and I’ll remember it more vividly without having verbally commented on it during the experience.
Our first stop was Spanish Bay, which I discovered is where I had been walking to along the beach earlier in the week. We went to my zen bleached tree trunk and did our own rock balancing. Our next stop was The Restless Sea, where the turbulence created by submerged terrain was not a friend to ships of the past. We walked down to Point Joe and enjoyed the view of a not-so-famous lone Cypress tree.
Our next stop was Bird Rock and Seal Rock, which was the most crowded and noisy stop on our tour. The majority of the noise, however, wasn’t coming from humans. It was coming from the seals and sea lions who were having boisterous conversations and, what one imagines, arguments over their particular sections of rock. Or maybe it was about relationship issues. Who knows? The birds were a close second in the “Who is the loudest” contest. They were all hilarious. I noticed a smaller rock to the right of Bird Rock, where a far smaller number of birds were sitting or napping quietly, seemingly unaffected. Ah, these are the elusive Mauna Birds.
Our favorite stop by far was at Fanshell Overlook. This stop would be so easy to pass by. It didn’t seem all that special from the road. There were only two other people there. We pulled in and were rewarded with an otter show. We stood next to each other, shoulder-to-shoulder, and watched a group of otters playing. We were so quiet that we could hear them banding their rocks on their chests. We never wanted to leave.
We continued our drive to Cypress Point Lookout, where mom seals have their pups every year. Our last two nature stops were to see The Lone Cypress and The Ghost Tree. One Cypress is still living, and one is not. The Lone Cypress is the symbol of The Pebble Beach Company.
We went to The Lodge at Pebble Beach for lunch and sat outside overlooking the surf. Our waiter was a bit nervous at first when we showed him our note but became more comfortable as the meal progressed. Mist had come in and the mountains across the water looked ethereal and it seemed extra quiet. A couple sitting behind me spoke softly in French throughout our lunch. Lovely is the only word I can use to describe it.
We drove back to Asilomar and I dropped Hillary and Pam so I could run a few errands. I needed gas and a highlighter. I popped into Long’s Drugs, grabbed a highlighter and went to the counter. The checker asked me how my day was, so I showed her my note and smiled. She looked at it and said at the top of her voice, “OH, OK!” (I’m not deaf.). “DO YOU KNOW YOUR PHONE NUMBER? (I’m not dumb.) I nod yes. “ENTER IT RIGHT HERE ON THESE BUTTONS.” (I’m not blind.) “PUT YOUR CARD IN HERE.” (I’ve purchased things before.) “GOOD!” I nod thank you and giggle silently to myself. Silence must be such a foreign concept to her.
Starbuck’s was right next door, so I popped in for a hot chocolate, showed my paper to the young man, wrote down my order, and handed it to him. By contrast to the Long’s checker, his response was? “Cool. Want me to recycle this?”
Afternoon Meditation – We were back in time for our afternoon group meditation. I brought awareness to my breath. My mantra popped in a few times here and there. Maybe since I don’t have a chip on my shoulder about it anymore, I can become better friends with it.
Liquid Silver – What is it about sunbeams that make them so magical? I had time for a slow walk along the dunes before evening Satsang and the sun was beginning to set. Perfectly placed clouds helped create a situation where sunbeams were streaming onto the surface of the ocean just off shore. The water was shimmering and looked like liquid silver. Again, I thought about how nature is so amazing. The simple things that come so effortlessly to her can stir so much in us. Nature can heal mind, body and spirit. I am so thankful to have been at the ocean this week in silence.
Deepak Answers my Question – The great thing about these Satsangs is it is simply Deepak answering the questions we’ve written down for him. Some questions are deep, some are existential, and some are asking what to do about a husband’s addiction to organic peanut butter. Deepak seems to have an encyclopedic brain. He is so knowledgeable but relatable. In this intimate setting, he shares a lot from his life experience too.
Deepak talked a lot about science tonight. He has been immersed in science and, specifically medicine, for a good part of his life. Some people say that there is no way for science and the concept of pure consciousness to co-exist. Science does amazing things (some good like solar energy and some bad like nuclear bombs) but it can’t tell you anything about the observer, only the observed. Science can have an impact on your bodymind – curing a bacterial infection or setting a broken bone – but it can’t tell you who you are.
Advances in science, and how they are used, are part of our collective consciousness. Our collective consciousness needs to shift away from racism, hate, violence, greed and the like. In Deepak’s opinion, unless there is a collective awakening through meditation, science will become a tool for our extinction. If there is a collective awakening, science will become a tool for our restoration.
I wrote a question for Deepak on the first night of the retreat. It said that I’ve read books about silent retreats and the people always seem to have major insights during the experience or finish with profound intentions. I was concerned that in silence I would just sit in silence and there would be nothing else. I guess I was really concerned about not being good enough at silence, at failing at silence.
Well, my question got a good laugh out of the audience. However, Deepak liked the question and answered it in two parts. First, he said that if all I get out of silence is silence, then I’ve succeeded. Silence is healing and puts us in touch with our pure consciousness. Not a bad payoff for such a simple action.
Leave it to Deepak, though, to “unpack” my true question about concerns. Being concerned is a habit, he said. It is a learned behavior, but it is just a thought. To be honest, being concerned that I’m not good enough has been a life-long issue for me. In silent witnessing, there is no concern. He suggested that when feeling concerned or stressed, I do the following:
- Ask myself, “What is the thought that is causing this experience?” Answer the question.
- Ask myself, “Is this thought true?” Answer the question.
- Ask myself, “Where did this thought come from?” Answer the question.
- Ask myself,” What is holding onto this thought doing to me right now?” Answer the question.
- Ask myself, “What would happen to me if I didn’t have this thought now?” Answer the question.
- Ask myself,” What is the opposite of this thought?” Answer the question and choose that.
Just like concerns, emotional wounds are also thoughts. They aren’t you or me. Light Blub Moment: We aren’t our thoughts. Like Elsa in Frozen, we need to just let them go. I loved when Deepak said regarding self-doubt and concern, ”Your tormentor is yourself left over from yesterday.” If you’re having a hard time with anything in your life, Deepak suggests not forcing yourself to be positive. In fact, he said that would make you obnoxious and you’d annoy everyone. Instead, seek silence and choose to give love and you’ll be restored to homeostasis. Trust that the universe wants what is the best for you.
“The only way to stop judging is to shut up.” Deepak Chopra
Now there’s some basic, down-to-earth advice your grandmother would give you while slapping you upside your head.
Another question asked during the evening was the difference between Attention and Intention. Anything we do requires both attention and intention. Attention is focusing our energy and intention transforms that energy into a different expression. Intentions shouldn’t be forced. Instead, ask ourselves the question, “What do I want?” and then let it go. The answer will come to us. The more we are self-referred (The Silent Witness), the more intentions are spontaneously manifested.
About the Author
Rochelle Barcellona is an animal-loving, family-and-friends-embracing, yoga-nidra-meditation-and-ayurveda-teaching, happy red-headed yogi who owns Nourish Mind Body & Spirit in Northern California. You may learn more about Rochelle here. Rochelle may be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and 916-353-5200.