The beauty of silence

There is constant noise in the world around us. And then there is constant noise inside us too: the mind which does not stop. If you’re like most people, you’ll notice your mind is making judgements about everything. Before you even realise it, the mind has flown to this place and that, and you’re definitely not in control of where it goes.

Sometimes the noise outside is a comfort. It distracts us from ourselves, and it stops us having to face our own thoughts. Sometimes we contribute to the noise by talking and judging, gossiping without even thinking about what we are saying. At night, everything comes back to us in our solitude and we might find it difficult to truly rest. This is the nature of the adult human mind.

Very young children don’t have the words and ideas to make constant judgements in their minds; they tend to live from moment to moment. They are more at peace with themselves, but they are prey to the outside noise too, and they become restless living in a restless world.

For our own mental health and for that of our communities, it’s important to learn both silence within and silence without. This does not mean stopping communication; it means deepening our ability to communicate so that fewer words and gestures can achieve more expression. There is time to speak and reveal, and also time to be silent and observe without judgement.

Silence is beautiful because it allows us to see things we might have missed. There are patterns in nature which we can observe in silence. Love communicated without words is one of the most powerful expressions of silence.

It’s hard to change habits. The habits of judging, gossiping, getting irritable and complaining have become second nature to a lot of us. But people can change the way their minds work, with repeated practice. Even ten minutes a day observing thoughts as they come, and then letting them go is enough to give you an idea of how your mind works. And then gradually, thoughts will pass more slowly and sitting in silent observation will become more pleasurable.

Being vegetarian

Vegetables
As a young child, I used to eat all kinds of meat and fish. In fact, I don’t even like to mention some of the kinds of meat that I happily ate. But as the years wore on, I began questioning meat on every level. Now I’ve been 100% vegetarian for about eleven years.

I honestly don’t know why meat began bothering me in the first place. I used to love the taste, but at around age seven, I began disliking the flavour. After that, I began associating meat with the act of killing and bloodshed. A lot of people argue that it’s natural for humans to be omnivores, but I feel we’ve reached a state of consciousness in which what we eat is a choice, not just an instinct. It may feel ‘natural’ to start a fight with someone or to be promiscuous, but we make conscious decisions which instincts we should follow through with – that’s what makes us responsible individuals and allows societies to progress. Even primitive societies display such traits of consciousness – it’s the hallmark of human evolution. I think being vegetarian is an important choice, both for the individual and for the ecological systems we contribute to. Animals live on instinct, but in a way which is in sync with nature. The way in which we consume meat these days is definitely not in sync with nature.

The meat industry keeps and produces livestock in a very ecologically-unfriendly way just in order to make money. The natural balances of the food chain are disrupted and the proliferation of diseases becomes much higher. I realise that vegetables are grown in artificial ways too, and that there are now options to buy organic meat, but despite all this, the risks of producing meat are always less natural and more detrimental in terms of self-sufficiency, the environment and individual health. A lot of people think that vegetarians miss out on vital food elements, specially protein. But this is simply not true if someone follows a balanced diet. For all these reasons, I think it’s worth being vegetarian.

Feeding the soul

I have come to realise that feeding the soul and feeding the body are very closely linked. Living in Asia, eating the wrong thing can have disastrous consequences. Sometimes such things are triggered by unforeseeable factors in the environment, and they can’t be predicted. But whenever I face problems related to food and eating, it always reminds me of the same thing: food is sacred. If you treat it that way.

I used to eat meat and fish, but became a vegetarian some years ago after feeling very disturbed about the kind of meat I was eating. Now I see that being vegetarian is not enough. It’s about the way we regard food. If it is prepared with love, care and with consideration/gratitude for Mother Nature, then it will sustain us. If it is made carelessly, hatefully, angrily, and eaten with haste or greed, then it could wreak havoc.

Sometimes it’s too late – you already consumed the wrong thing – and your system is acting against you. Sometimes you ate the right things but something went wrong, perhaps you got stressed or there was a sudden climate change which made you ill. Another thing I’ve learned is that the border between comfort and discomfort is a spiritual exercise. I would certainly not recommend self-punishment in any way, that’s not what I mean. Self-punishment is calculated and dishonours Mother Nature’s role in balancing things. Facing pain and pleasure as part of life shows acceptance of nature and resilience of the spirit to become strong, to survive. What I mean is that when life puts you in difficulty, you have to call upon all your resources to deal with it. And in dealing with it, you experience life as a vital force, here and now.

So, I am going to try and eat foods in a way that will feed my soul, and if something makes me react badly, then I will deal with it in the knowledge that ‘every cloud has a silver lining’, and this temporary pain will reveal the resilience of my spirit to carry on, for the spirit is imperishable.

Present moment

The present moment is your escape route from stress.

Stress only comes from worrying about the past or the future. In the present moment, even if you are facing a difficult situation, you will act without stress. There is no time for stress when you are fully present! You are too occupied with what is happening around you and within you to ponder and complain.

If you just sit and listen to your breath going in and out, then observe all the sounds and movements around you, you will notice that there is nothing to worry about. You can act and live with whatever situation comes. But the hardest thing to do as an adult is to stay present…

Daily yoga routine

A daily yoga routine must involve all principles of yoga. This means that you must:

-begin with a warm-up by doing gentle stretches, eye-exercises and neck rolls
-start asanas – a cycle of postures which include sitting and standing positions
-relax the body gradually after the postures
-start pranayam, or breathing techniques
-sit in padmasan (lotus position) for meditation

All this must be done on an empty stomach, and any food a yogi eats must be sattvic (pure, light, vegetarian).

Meditation

Meditation is a crucial part of any yogic practice. Even the physical postures are supposed to be done in a meditative frame of mind so that one pose flows into the next. This is because yoga is as much about spiritual and mental well-being as it is about physical health and suppleness. In fact, yoga promotes the idea that every aspect of human experience affects every other aspect so mental health is very important for attaining true physical health.

The yogic term for meditation is ‘dhyana’, often translated as concentration. There are a variety of different exercises, such as:
– visualisation
– chakra concentration
– external focus on objects
– chanting

The best way to begin is with visualisation, as this is the easiest method. All you need is imagination, perhaps some music, and a comfortable, undisturbed space.

Imagine yourself sitting on a beach, a mountain or any beautiful, calming place. Observe the details around you, notice the natural beauty surrounding you. Now concentrate on one thing in this scene, like a tree or a wave. Notice its qualities. Now gradually imagine yourself becoming that thing. The separation between you and the world fades gradually. Repeat the mantra, ‘so ham’, which means ‘I am that’. Begin by doing this for 5 minutes for a week and you can gradually build up to half an hour with practice.

Visualisation can be very powerful and is a safe method to use for beginners who are not used to working directly with the chakra energy.

Prana and Pranayama

‘Prana’ means ‘life force’ and ‘pranayama’ is the practice of regulating the life-force energy of the body by using yogic breathing techniques. Prana is the substance of life, the substance which the soul is made up of; when a person dies, it is their ‘prana’ which leaves the body.

Yogananda described in his book, Autobiography of a Yogi, how prana can be regulated in order to facilitate divine union and optimum health. He calls this process ‘Kriya Yoga’ and it is still practised today. However, one must obtain ‘initiation’ from an established yogi in order to become a member of the Kriya Yoga Foundation.

Yogananda’s is not the only technique to put emphasis on prana. Virtually every type of yoga focuses on prana in one way or another. The most common yogic practices are:
1) Aulom Vilom
2) Kalabhati
3) Bhastrika
4) Sithali and Sitkari