Saturday, December 27, 2008

Silence

What is the longest you have ever remained silent?  Could you do it for 4 days?  It is not as easy as you may think.  
As Christmas approached and those around me were eating more, I decided to scale down and prepare for a 4 day fast.  In the week approaching I ate fruit and nuts, making sure to eat lots of both.  I have done this before and found it extraordinarily difficult and incredibly rewarding.  I noticed a huge change immediately upon starting fruits here.  I felt much clearer and less troubled. I felt released from social demands and completely in myself.  
I did make one exception for Christmas eve when I accompanied my fellow yoga teacher to the only really nice hotel in the area, the Serena.  We walked the dark hilly streets of Kiyovu to get there and when we arrived I turned to Eunice and said, "so this is where they put all the lights". In a city with no street lamps, it was a bit shocking to see so much light in one place.  The Serena had obviously taken Christmas very seriously.  But if so, where were all the people?  
We made our way to the empty bar and enjoyed some long awaited extravagance.  For many reasons, some that I haven't quite figured out yet, Rwanda is a very expensive country.  The drink prices are equal to those in New York and some products can be doubly expensive.  As I sipped my Johnny Walker Red and watched the band set up I couldn't help wonder where everyone was.  Some people, I found out were downstairs at the buffet dinner, but the truth is there just aren't that many foreigners here.  And those that are here tend to remain to themselves.  You can see evidence of this as you walk the streets and come across other Westerners.  They will pretend not to see you unless forced into a 'hello'.  (I try this out daily.)
Fortunately, I met a young woman about to start a one month volunteer mission in Tanzania. Fresh off the plane from San Francisco, she was more than happy to make friends.  I talked with her for awhile and then met up with her the next day when we traded a tour around the city center for a couple hours of movie watching in her air conditioned hotel room.  What can I say but that it really is the little things?!  
The next day as Eunice (the other yoga teacher) left for her one week holiday in London, I began my stint of silence.  With no one here to disturb me it was easy to spend most of the first day in bed.  I wasn't hungry and I am drinking water so thirst was not a problem either.  But it didn't take long for my mind to grow uncomfortable with forced stillness.  What to do with no food, computer, books, music?  Could I just lie still and be?  It is amazing the things the mind will come up with to get me to quit.  It fights very hard against silence.  But without that fight, there would be no lesson.
Each time I fast I learn so much about my inner character.  I discover how little I really need. When I awaken from my solitude I slowly begin to take in again.  A day of juice that would have seemed like punishment before is now a taste bud's holiday.  But there is more than that.  With the layers of clutter peeled away, I am able to view my surroundings with extreme clarity. Seeing things as they are, instead of through the filter of ego and perception that normally dominates, I feel full in my newly born self and able to act with precision and clarity.
This is the gift of silence.  It is a true rest which when done properly leaves one with a deep energy and excitement about life.  After this kind of rejuvenation, zoning out in front of a TV does not seem restful at all.  In fact, the bombardment of meaningless information (though sometimes quite enjoyable) is not restful for the inner mind and body at all.
One should never fast for longer than a day with out being under the supervision of a teacher. And anyone of inappropriate age or with physical or mental issues affected by food should certainly seek another route.  However, anyone can shut off the TV, radio, etc. and sit for a short time in silence.  Just five minutes twice a day is a good way to start.  During this time you can watch as the mind sends all sorts of thoughts into the consciousness.  Don't judge.  Just observe.  This is the beginning of Silence.

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