This book was bought for me as a birthday gift in March and I was intrigued from the moment I was given it. As I am sure so many of us do, it was added to my book pile on my bedside table and now, half way through the summer holidays, having finished other books and the reading for my Yoga teacher training, I have found the time to give it my attention.
Although the book is entitled 'The Gift of Silence' it is really a book encouraging mindfulness. This is because, as the book recognises, the world we live in is full of noise and to hear nothing is almost impossible. As I sit writing this a car is starting its engine and driving off with the radio on and the fan on the laptop is making a humming noise.
The idea is that you find ways to cope with the noise around you by finding an inner silence and stillness, no matter what is going on, to alleviate anxiety or negative thoughts and emotions that loud situations can trigger.
This resonates for me, as being a parent of two and working with young people as a secondary Science teacher for the past 14 years, I have often found myself in very noisy situations which have made me feel anxious, with my heart rate starting to increase and a feeling of panic rising through my body. I have also seen this happen to my students. I have managed to cope with this using breathing techniques taught to me when I studied Drama, to deal with nervousness before going on stage. More recently I have adapted this to a diaphragmatic breathing technique but I am just beginning to see the benefits of meditation and mindfulness and so it interested me to see how these can help.
The book is broken down into three parts and in the first part the author discusses her background in hypnotherapy and as a singing teacher and gives examples of how she has observed and questioned people who seem unflappable in different or unkind situations and how they coped with it. She invites you to use the examples you are drawn to in the book to imitate, model and explore, joining the adventure of finding new ways to see the world.
In Western society an emptiness is often felt inside people due to short lived joy from instant rewards, rushing from one idea to another and giving up too easily. A nagging sense of restlessness is discussed which causes us to reach for our phones and do something. We can’t simply enjoy the moment. Kankyo suggests the answer to this emptiness is meditation. We must learn to be on our own with ‘nothing to do’ to find our true self. The key to not giving up on this is:
“Repeat, Repeat, Repeat: Sounds Stupid but Secures Success
Repeat, Repeat, Repeat: Sounds Stupid but Secures Success
Repeat, Repeat, Repeat: Sounds Stupid but Secures Success”
This she says is the most important rule. The 3 R’s and 4 S’s. The rule is backed up by educational research I have read on brain elasticity and growth mind-set.
“It takes a deliberate and sustained effort to change our mental habits.” Repetition is key in enforcing a change.
As I have talked about in my previous blogs, finding time in your day for a small change and continuing that small manageable change will have a greater effect than doing something for hours less regularly. I continue to practice my four sun salutations daily as I know this is an achievable goal whether performed in silence, with a music mantra or being climbed upon by two noisy children.
The second part of the book gives advice on three ways of achieving silence, visual silence, verbal silence and bodily silence.
In my interpretation bodily silence is yoga, becoming aware of our bodies again. Verbal silence is about detaching yourself from your thoughts and then listening and interrupting the voice in your head and seeing if, with this practice, you can silence it. A way to do this is to really listen to all the sounds around you. I can hear a blackbird, someone tapping and a lawnmower. You welcome the sounds in listening to how close or far away the sounds are. For example lawnmower other end of the close – quite far. Black bird in my front garden - very near. Ask yourself are the sounds inside you or outside you? The author argues the boundary is tricky “the world and the self intimately intermingle”. In other words you are part of something bigger!
Visual silence is about trying to become aware of your “internal film show”. To do this you observe the images, colours and forms that appear in your head and with practise you can become your own projectionist, slowing down or stopping the images.
These exercises take practice and belief and I am at the beginning of trying them. The book is full of exercises which need careful thought, consideration, trial and error to find what will work for me.
What this book does confirm is the clarity of the path I have chosen being the correct path for me and that it is a long path with a continual learning journey. Part of that involves slowing down and appreciating little simple daily tasks more, where possible, consciously. For example when making the dinner, the colour, the smells and the rhythmic movement of chopping. Being grateful of the tastes, the company and sitting together with them (this could be, she suggests, in silence!) and really enjoying being in the moment of eating. I confess this is very difficult with children but I will certainly persevere at it.
Try to enjoy and appreciate some of the simple pleasures you have worked hard for in your life and maybe you will find an inner calming silence, if only for a couple of seconds, inside you. Maybe this will inspire you like it has me on a journey to find the joy and fullness you desire.