Allowing Silence to be the Teacher
Posted on 18th September 2019 at 12:51
(Taken from Suryacitta's latest book on mindfulness teraching)
“Silence is an empty space, and space is the home of the awakened mind.”
When listening to recorded guided meditations I am astounded by just how much most teachers say. Even very experienced teachers say far too much. My sense is that we have got into a cultural mindset that more is better. Well, it isn’t. It is a real shame if the opportunity we have when guiding meditations is taken up by the guide not knowing when to keep quiet. As a culture we are very uncomfortable with silence. If there is a gap,
our approach tends to be to fill it up.
Remember that guiding a meditation is not about you, it is about your students. It should provide them with an opportunity to become aware of themselves and to see how their own minds function. Now if we talk all the way through the session we are actually doing the meditation for them. It is like going to the gym and getting somebody else to lift the weights and run on the running machine for us.
It serves no purpose if I keep rattling on. In fact, it gets in the way of the students' learning experience. It denies them the opportunity to think and feel for themselves. When a teacher talks too much it may be that they are uncomfortable with silence themselves, or that they want to give their students a pleasant experience so it reflects well on them, or they may just like the sound of their own voice and if they can hear it they feel they are doing a good job. We have to be more courageous. We have to be willing to challenge our students more than we do. There are times when the most effective response to a student is silence. Silence allows students to sense and feel truths for themselves.
Silence and pauses are to me what makes sharing mindfulness magical, and they are so underused, so neglected in our way of life.
It is no accident that all the major religions have some form of silence in their practice. We cannot listen to God if we are not silent, we cannot appreciate nature if we have a headful of opinions, and we cannot listen to our own wisdom if we are more concerned with listening to our judgments and ideas.
When we bring periods of silence into our classes and indeed into our lives it gives each and every one of us the opportunity to learn, to know something in a different way. Through silence we get a sense of
something, we apprehend something without being able to explain it clearly. Silence allows the teachings to have an impact, and our students to be challenged in a way that may be quite new to them.
It does seem though that it is the context within which silence happens that is important. For example, we can be silent all day at home but just keep ourselves very busy, which is not the silence I am talking about. I am talking about an intended silence, a silence which invites us into awareness of the moment, as in meditation or on a meditation retreat or a course, or some other form of spiritual practice. It is not just the absence of sound; in fact it isn’t necessarily the absence of sound at all, but a space which we create for listening to the whisper of wisdom.
Silence allows us to process things emotionally and creatively. When we allow ourselves to be silent, we give space for our body to process emotions which often get trapped with over-thinking and busyness. We may also begin to see solutions to problems and issues in our lives which we would not see if we just kept thinking about them.
Silence also allows us to see life more clearly. Often, we see life through our own ideas, our own fears and desires, our own judgments, but when we fall silent even for a short period we get the opportunity to see all these for what they are, impermanent and fluid. Silence can assist us in developing a true insight into our nature and our lives.
At the very beginning of a course, after people have been welcomed at the door and directed to their
seats and once everybody is here, we begin - with nothing, or we could say we begin with silence. I will just sit, and everybody else will just sit. If people have been chatting, they sense a shift in the room and often fall quiet.
A few people will look around and I can see them wondering what is going on. They may be wondering if I am okay, or maybe a bit bonkers. After all, they have come to learn mindfulness, so they want to be told what it is. After around two or three minutes I will speak, and ask for responses to that period of silence. Some say they found it calming, others awkward, others say they could not stop thinking. Well, I say to them, we have already started the course. Those moments of silence enabled them to be aware of their experience and that is what we are here to do, to become more aware of ourselves and the world around us.
Later in the course, I will go into a conceptual explanation of what mindfulness is with these students. But I think it is important for them to have a direct taste of mindfulness from the first moment. Beginning the session with a silence sets the tone and the practice for the whole course. READ MORE IN SURYACITTA'S LATEST BOOK OR TRY THE ONLINE COURSE BASED ON THE BOOK ON UDEMY.
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