Exploring my struggle with silence

When we are in silence, without our usual distractions, we may notice a part of us struggling with this silence.

This is a current topic for me. In my twenties, I seemed very comfortable with silence and loved sitting in meditation on my own or with others. I would do it at least one or two hours a day, and often longer.

Later, when several layers of trauma surfaced, this got more difficult. Instead of a peaceful and quietly blissful silence, silence meant a meeting with very deep pain.

So my practice now, when I go into silence and absence of distractions, is to notice and meet the parts of me struggling with the silence and the pain. How is it to notice and befriend these parts of me? How is it to notice their nature?

How is it to notice the stillness and silence in my nature? How is it to notice it taking the form of contractions, discomfort, and so on?

The essence of this exploration is very simple, and it can also have several different aspects:

Notice the parts of me struggling with the pain, and associating silence and absence of distractions with this pain. Notice they are parts and objects within consciousness.

Befriending them. Getting to know them. Listen to their views and stories.

Find their needs, wants, and sense of lack, and give what they lack and want to them. (Often love, safety, support, and so on.)

Notice their nature. Rest in that noticing. Inviting them to notice their own nature and rest in that noticing.

And do the same with whatever contractions come up, both the ones reacting to the trauma and pain and the ones in trauma and pain. (Not that they are very different from each other.)

Slightly compulsive entertainment

I sometimes have a tendency to compulsive entertainment.

When I am out walking, I listen to a podcast or a talk by Adyashanti or someone else. And I often do the same before falling asleep at night.

I put more music and some movies on my phone, just in case I happen to be traveling and need something to put my attention on.

And I make sure I always have my phone (or iPod) with me, along with earbuds, when I am out.

Nothing of this is very bad, and I suspect it’s quite common.

And yet, I notice it’s a bit compulsive. It feels like I am trying to avoid something. It feels like I am trying to avoid myself.

So I can ask myself:

What would I have to feel right now if I didn’t listen to a podcast or a talk?

What would I have to feel right now?

And then rest with that. See how it is to rest with it, if even for a few seconds or minutes. How is it? Is it as terrible as my mind sometimes suggests?

How is it to feel those sensations? Look at the images? Listen to the words? Rest with it? Notice the space in and around? Perhaps ask some simple questions, so I more clearly notice what they are – sensations, images, and words?

Two dynamics: avoiding vs opening

When intense emotions and stressful thoughts surface, I can avoid or open to them.

And each one has self-reinforcing dynamics, they each tend to set up a loop.

Why do I avoid opening to the emotion/thoughts? It’s because of a set of beliefs, and they may seem quite deep seated at first.

It will get worse. Something terrible will happen. (If I open to the emotion, inquire into the thought.)

It’s better to avoid. It’s more comfortable to avoid. It’s easier to avoid. It’s possible to avoid.

The thought is true. The stressful thought reflects reality. It’s pointless to inquire into it.

So when I avoid, I do it because of these beliefs, and it means I don’t get a chance to question them. I avoid opening to the emotions, so I don’t get to see what will happen if I do. I avoid questioning the stressful beliefs, so I don’t get to see what’s more true for me.

Of course, we cannot avoid all the time, so we do get glimpses of how it so to do the 180 degree turn and opening to the emotion, and inquire into the stressful thoughts. It happens in ordinary life, perhaps through a conversation with a loving friend. And it may happen through a book, a teacher, or a workshop.

As I open to an intense emotion, it’s a form of inquiry. What happens if I open to it? Allow it? Welcome it? Notice it’s already allowed?

And inquiring into a stressful thought is a double inquiry. It’s an inquiry into the thought, and an inquiry into what happens if I inquire into this thought.

In both of these ways, I get to see that my assumptions may not be entirely accurate. I thought something terrible would happen, I thought it would get worse (which it may, in the very short term), and it didn’t. Something else happened. So I get more curious. I am drawn to trying it again. Next time an intense emotion surfaces, along with stressful thoughts, I may remember. Something in me nudges me to try it again. How is it to open to this emotion, inquire into this thought? And as I do this more regularly, it becomes a new habit. Now, opening to emotions and inquiring into thoughts becomes what’s more attractive, more familiar.

The shift may take time, and yet it’s inevitable that it happens, as long as I am sincere in questioning whatever thoughts I have that may prevent me from opening to the emotion, and questioning the thought.

Attention as a guide

I notice that my attention naturally goes to knots. To beliefs and their consequences (drama, tension, a sense of separation, supporting stories and so on).

And I also see that I can work against or with this natural tendency.

In some specific situations, it seems appropriate to work against it. For instance, when I do a stable attention practice, I can work against that tendency by noticing when attention goes away from its practice object (breath or something else), and gently bring it back.

But in most situations, it seems to make more sense to work with it. To notice that attention naturally goes to knots, and take this as an opportunity to find the belief behind the knot (creating the knot), inquire into this belief, and also allow and be with whatever experiences are associated with the knot (mostly emotions).

If I get stuck in seeing distractions as a problem, I continue to battle with it, and also miss out of the valuable guidance in the wanderings of attention, naturally going to knots.

If I take the wanderings of attention as a valuable guidance, I am led to knots and have an opportunity to work with the beliefs creating them.

If I am free to do both, in different situations, it may be even more valuable. I get to practice a stable attention, gently notice and bringing it back whenever it wanders. And, at other times, I get to use attention as a guide.

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