Getting Quiet Shows You More than You'd Think
THE SOUND OF SILENCE
Author credit Will Cottrell of YOGAHOLIDAYS.NET
At this time of year it's easy to feel surrounded by noise and chaos.
So it's useful to understand that there's something else underlying all this sound and activity, something that's far more powerful.
If you can find it, it's a great tonic with which to clear your head for the New Year.
I first came across this a few years ago I worked as a yoga guide on Mount Sinai in Egypt. I trekked with groups of yogis up to the summit
and then on to Jacob's Hollow, a tiny, ancient cup in the mountainside bordered by ancient pines, where we'd practise yoga in the sunshine after our trip to the top.
Jacob's Hollow in the Sinai Desert
It was there, in Jacob's Hollow, where I first noticed an eerie sound. Actually it wasn't a sound, but a lack of sound, a non-sound.
Perhaps that wasn't surprising: the desert is the only place on the planet that is almost entirely barren: sand, rock, sky and sun; that's about it.
In the weeks and months that followed I began to understand what this non-sound actually was: it was a sound of silence.
Since my time in Sinai this ringing nothingness has remained with me. Not simply on the slopes of mountains, or in the lush countryside of the UK.
It's there on the streets of Hong Kong, where I also spend time, in a metro under London; there as I listen to music on my headphones walking through Brighton's streets.
Underlying it all - and Sinai's great lesson to me - is something else: this ringing sound of emptiness.
Silence is everywhere, if you think about it. Silence is the place from where all our noise emerges from. Noise vibrations come and go
but the paper that they're written on if you like, their underlying field, is emptiness, nothingness. And if noise has an end then what
comes after is silence. Indeed, there's a great deal more non-sound than sound out there - think of the wonderful great silences of space.
Our sounds, if focussed on in the right way, end up looking pretty trivial.
British meditation teacher Burgs tuned me to the significance of silence with a startling instruction on a meditation retreat this year.
Fifty of us were sitting in the lovely halls of Buckland House in the Welsh Brecon Beacons.
"Feel the stillness of the room with your heart," said Burgs.
Feel stillness with my heart?
"It's in the centre of your chest, to the left a little," Burgs added helpfully.
Feel the stillness? Can you do that?
Outside it was the end of a summer day. It was probably still for miles of Welsh countryside around. So there was plenty of silence to go around.
I focussed in on it.
And there it was again - the silence of Sinai. I could feel it! It roamed through the room, rich and deep, the hall sunk deep in a timeless void.
I sat and it boomed. An echoing potential, coming again and again, timeless, permanent.
Burgs likes to say "he who perceives silence as empty will not complete the path." What he means by this is, I think, that there is a bunch of stuff -
which we call stillness or silence - out of which things emerge. "It is not until we see that things aren't magically appearing out of nothingness,"
writes Burgs in The Flavour of Liberation "but that emptiness itself is actually a field of pure potentiality with the capitcity to manifest anything
and everything, that we can begin to understand how the universe is even here."
That might sound fluffy, but science too shows silence is noisy. A constant movement of particles shoot through even a perfect vacuum,
and Richard Feynman, an American physicist, has posited that "The energy in a single cubic metre of empty space (the bits of space with no matter in them)
is enough to boil all the oceans of the world."
Stillness is never not there. You can hear it in the desert, and you can hear it right now. It's one step behind you. Check it out.
Will is a member of the Yogaholidays.net team, passionate about environmental issues and founder of Brighton Energy Co-op.
Currently to be found somewhere between Brighton, Hong Kong, Edinburgh and Cornwall.