“Cultivate solitude as a place for paying attention” – R.H. Barton
Silence is the new luxury
And it looks like it is a new trend sweeping the globe, promoting mindfulness and meditation as a counterweight to the hectic and noisy world we live in today. We can book luxury hotels in far away places that will embrace and pamper you with solitude, silence and a minimum of external stimuli. All conceived to help you find your path to inner peace.
And you could take it a step further if you wish. Enter a silence retreat in a Buddhist monastery where you will temporarily give up on your worldly life, your attachments, ego and desires for the profound experience of absorbing complete silence. More and more people are willing to try this challenge. Possibly as a reaction to our lives being so over-scheduled and busy that we find it hard to connect with our inner voice. And that is often very true. Honestly, how often do you find or take the time these days to really think about you, your desires and your personal needs?
In Asia it is not uncommon to retreat within the silent and simple life of ancient monastery walls once or even multiple times during your life. In Thailand it is in fact a standard tradition for men to spend 3 months in a monastery adapting to the rhythm and simplicity of the silence of the monks. It is like holding a mirror up to yourself and being taught the wisdom to search for the answers on life’s important questions within yourself. This spiritual and ancient practice plays an important role in life. Some people retreat multiple times during their life for shorter or longer periods of time in an effort to learn how to be a better human being and find a deeper understanding. Not only to yourself but to others as well. There are no rules to follow here because it is not a religion. The journey you pursue is your own.
Live in the moment
Monastic sabbaticals are considered a period of great psychological transformation and a way of learning to be at peace with the silence within, by practicing extensive meditation sessions amongst others. Mastering the art of meditation enables you to get in touch with your true inner self and allows you to tap into your spiritual needs. The life of a Buddhist monk is one of concentration and mindfulness of every activity. They find calm and peace in their days. It is all about learning not to be bothered by events from your past or any anxieties about what the future will bring. Being in the present, and only there, is what really counts.
Monastic life is foremost a spiritual journey which enriches your personality with a deeper understanding of what you truly need in life and meditation is the means to do it. It brings more clarity to the events in your life, it breeds understanding and focus and teaches you to find peace and happiness without the need for material things. And even scientists have dived into the matter. They noted that not speaking for longer periods of time heightens awareness in other areas. This starts with breathing, and evolves towards sights, sounds, sensations, thoughts, intentions and emotions. It supports a life uncluttered by all the extras we gather constantly without a real need for them.
But the authentic monastic life is not for the faint hearted. Don’t be misled by views of breathtaking Himalaya’s mountain tops where you will sit contemplating, simply doing nothing. That is just the icing on the cake. Monastic life is 90% hard work filled with long days where a you are stripped from all worldly conveniences, won’t or hardly will speak, sit in silence without moving for hours on end, doing chores and getting to know the real you. It is a simple life that embraces solitude. And in this solitude of not communicating with others you shall experience spiritual growth and freedom.
Watch the personal experience of what it means to live your day as a monk.
So what can it further bring you mentally, this solitude in monastic seclusion?
As mentioned before it heightens your sensitivity in other brain areas like breathing sense of smell, sights sounds thoughts and emotions.
It is no secret that society today praises high productivity levels. So people tend to go on in full gear without taking a break and risking a burn out in the process. Never allowing your mind to find peace and stillness, is in fact counter productive. Silence is a great way to reenergize and reload the batteries. In turn this will make you more efficient and productive.
Combining solitude with a walk in nature causes brain growth in the hippocampus region, resulting in better memory. That is what research has proven. Apparently being in nature ignites our spatial memory just like it did in the days when humans were still hunters. memory was crucial for survival back in the days, you had to remember at least were predators could be expected and where you could collect your food.
Grow and sharpen your brain
The brain is a very complex organ that requires rest, just like muscles do. UCLA research showed that meditation -sitting in silence and mentally rest- improves the “folding” of the cortex and boosts our ability to process information. Reserving just 10 minutes a day to sit in your car and visualize a peaceful scenery (rainforest, snow-falling, beach) actually helps to thicken grey matter in your brain.
At first meditation will bring on discomfort. You will want to sit as still as possible and restrict your movements to an absolute minimum. Something will surely start to itch or ache. But it is in discipline that you can find the strength to let go of those distractions. More so the discipline will teach you to become an observer of your thoughts. And it builds strength when we consciously choose not to respond to every actionable thought.
Become a happier person
Silence brings our awareness back to the present. And it is in the present where concrete happiness is experienced.
Creates Self awareness
In silence, you make room for the self-awareness that allows you to be in control of your actions, rather than being controlled by them. Drowning external voices tunes you to your inner voice, and it is that inner voice that drives your actions. Self awareness eventually leads to control.
The benefits are plenty but it is certainly no walk in the park to begin with since we are so out of tune with this ancient practice in western society. But we believe it could benefit everyone at certain stages in their life. Maybe meditation should be taught to our children from an early age onwards. To ensure they incorporate the habit of silence and stillness to nurture their inner voice; find peace and calm. A daily ritual to make the world and all the people in it, a better place.