Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann: My people are not threatened by silence

My people are not threatened by silence. They are completely at home in it. They have lived for thousands of years with Nature’s quietness. My people today recognise and experience in this quietness the great Life-Giving Spirit, the Father of us all. It is easy for me to experience God’s presence. When I am out hunting, when I am in the bush, among the trees, on a hill or by a billabong; these are the times when I can simply be in God’s presence. My people have been so aware of Nature. It is natural that we will feel close to the Creator. Our Aboriginal culture has taught us to be still and to wait. We do not try to hurry things up. We let them follow their natural course – like the seasons. We watch the moon in each of its phases. We wait for the rain to fill our rivers and water the thirsty earth…

When twilight comes, we prepare for the night. At dawn we rise with the sun.

We watch the bush foods and wait for them to ripen before we gather them. We wait for our young people as they grow, stage by stage, through their initiation ceremonies. When a relation dies, we wait a long time with the sorrow. We own our grief and allow it to heal slowly.

We wait for the right time for our ceremonies and our meetings. The right people must be present. Everything must be done in the proper way. Careful preparations must be made. We don’t mind waiting, because we want things to be done with care.

We don’t like to hurry. There is nothing more important than what we are attending to. There is nothing more urgent that we must hurry away for.

We wait on God, too. His time is the right time. We wait for him to make his word clear to us. We don’t worry. We know that in time and in the spirit of dadirri (that deep listening and quiet stillness) his way will be clear.

We are river people. We cannot hurry the river. We have to move with its current and understand its ways.

We hope that the people of Australia will wait. Not so much waiting for us – to catch up – but waiting with us, as we find our pace in this world.

If you stay closely united, you are like a tree, standing in the middle of a bushfire sweeping through the timber. The leaves are scorched and the tough bark is scarred and burnt; but inside the tree the sap is still flowing, and under the ground the roots are still strong. Like that tree, you have endured the flames, and you still have the power to be reborn.

Our culture is different. We are asking our fellow Australians to take time to know us; to be still and to listen to us.

– Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann (Aboriginal activist, educator, artist and 2021 Senior Australian of the year)

I have noticed a few things in my own life related to much of what she so beautifully mentions here.

When I am in nature – for instance at the cabin in Norway or in the countryside in the Andes mountains – I naturally get up at dawn and go to bed early. I follow the natural cycles. It just makes sense in those settings. (A more urban setting tends to disconnect me more from nature, although only to a certain extent.)

In general, it’s difficult for me to do anything unless the time feels ripe – the situation and something in me is ready for it. I organize my life, as far as possible, so there is some flexibility in when I do my tasks so I can do it when it happens naturally.

It’s also very difficult to know anything very far in advance. I cannot easily plan more than two or three weeks ahead because my intuition and inner guidance don’t work that far in advance. Too much may happen and too much may change in me between now and then.

I love silence. I love the sounds of nature without too much human noise. I don’t really understand the tendency of some in our civilization to want noise and to want to play loud music or anything loud. (I understand it may be fun and exciting for a little while, they enjoy the contrast, and that some may want to drown out their own inner distress that way, but I cannot connect with it viscerally so much.)

I sometimes have a strong inner guidance about a situation, and it turns out later to be accurate. If others are involved, it can create a challenge for me since I cannot explain it rationally so they understand.

The image is created by me and Midjourney, very loosely inspired by aboriginal art.

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.)

Silence or not during group meditation?

Having a Zen background (I lived for a few years at Kanzeon Zen Center in Salt Like City), I am used to silence during the sitting periods. If someone makes repeated sounds, it wouldn’t be unusual for the monitor – the senior monk monitoring the Zendo – to shout “sit still!!!”.

Silence allows for easier centering, inner silence, and focus, at least in my experience. And having to sit still also requires me to find a way to allow and give space to my own restlessness and discomfort instead of distracting myself through sounds or movement. That’s perhaps the greatest benefit and one of the reasons the silence-norm is in place.

When I first took a Vortex Healing class, I was surprised by the sound level. People seemed to move around and make quite a bit of sound (breathing, sighing, coughing, pulling in snot, moving, opening bottles, even reading through notebooks!) during the transmissions or meditations. It’s distracting, but the benefit is that I get to see my own reactivity to it, and it triggers some emotional issues (rooted in trauma), so I can then work on and clear those. In fact, due to my own discomfort from the noise level in the group, I am motivated to work on and clear those issues. I want to get a good portion done before next class…..!

So there are benefits to each approach. I also guess Vortex Healing has more of an Indian and Hinduism connection with it’s higher tolerance for noise (and chaos!), so that’s why they do it differently.

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Playing out conditioning

Our human life and interactions is conditioning playing itself out.

A simple way to explore this is to take any view we have or activity we are doing, and then find a cause behind it, and then another, and then another. They are innumerable, and stretch back to beginning of time and out to the widest extent of the universe.

When we see this, there is a softening of identification with our identities, views, and actions. They are not personal. They are universal in the sense that they (a) belong to the universe as a whole, and (b) we and everything live out conditioning.

It’s also quite beautiful. It allows the universe – including us – to exist and function. It creates a great deal of diversity and richness. And it allows us to find ourselves as that which all this happens within and as.

In daily life, we can notice this whenever we interact with others. We each perceive and live from our conditioning, and it can be helpful to notice or guess some specifics about it. For instance, I prefer quiet over loudness. What may have lead to that preference?

I grew up in an educated middle class home in Norway, and quiet is valued in that subculture and culture. Being quiet equals being considerate and a good person and citizen.

I am used to quiet at home. I prefer it because it’s familiar.

I feel nervous and restless if it’s not quiet. It’s uncomfortable.

I have CFS and had PTSD, both of which makes me more sensitive to sound. Silence feels deeply nurturing and healing.

I am a mammal, and mammals tend to prefer silence or quiet. Silence or near silence is part of our evolutionary history, and it also allows us to detect danger more easily. It’s built into us to prefer silence.

And so on. I could probably always find one more possible reason, and then another.

Another person may not have this preference, and may even prefer loudness. What are some possible reasons?

They may have grown up in a lively and loud home. It feels familiar and comforting to them.

They may not have sound sensitivities. Their consititution may be more robust.

Their ancestors may have been very comfortable with loundness, and passed on those characteristics. Those traits can give a survival advantage in some situations.

They may use it to drown out uncomfortable sensations and thoughts. It can feel like an escape for them, a way to find a sense of safety.

When I see this, there is more understanding and compassion for both of us. I see that we are both playing out conditioning. And, really, we are both conditioning being played out. I still have my preferences, and I’ll still seek more silence, but the identifications around it have softened a bit.

These lists of possible causes are just that, a list of possible causes. They are questions. In this context, it doesn’t matter how accurate they are. They just serve as a reminder of innumerable causes.

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Silence is something that many say they seek or wish for, especially among those into meditation and similar things.

And silence can be understood in different ways.

First, it’s the everyday notion of silence. It’s what we find in nature, or on a quiet day indoors. It may have the sounds of nature – of wind, waves, birds, and it’s mostly free of the sounds of civilization – cars, machines, the “dragon breath” of the city.

Then, there is another silence. The silence that’s always here. The silence that’s what we are. The silence that appears as the conventional silence and noise. The silence that cannot be disturbed or interrupted by conventional noise. Although it can be noticed or not, and it can notice itself or not (so much).

And it’s similar with relaxation.

There is the conventional relaxation that’s opposed to tension.

And there is the other relaxation. The one that allows and appears as the conventional relaxation and tension that comes and goes.

And there is the first leading into the second. I especially notice this when I hold satsang with parts of my field of experience. It allows these parts of me to relax. They are met with love and understanding. They do their own inquiry, perhaps noticing what they really are. They relax more deeply. And “I” relax more deeply. And this makes it easier to notice the deep relaxation that’s already here. Everything is this awakeness, this presence, this love, and when this presence, awakeness, love notices itself, there is a relaxation. And it’s here, and perhaps even noticed, even as it sometimes appears as conventional relaxation and tension.

Journey: blue stone and deep silence

After waking up this morning, I lied in bed for a few minutes just being with whatever was present – sensations, dreams, feelings. My attention went to the heart area, and the image and sense of a deep blue brilliant stone surfaced. I stayed with it for a little while, and also chose to not go further with it right then as I had to get up.

Late in the afternoon, I sat down to relax, my attention again went to the heart area, and the same image of a a deep blue brilliant stone in the heart area came up. Now, I go into it.

I see and sense the deep blue brilliant stone in the physical heart space. It has the qualities of a gemstone, and has a translucent thin blue sphere around it. It sits on top of a small horizontal dark blue or black circle, surrounded by deep blue still water.

The blue has a deep and profound stillness… It is a vast void, timeless and spaceless, with no forms or objects arising anywhere. It is profoundly quiet and still.

There is a death of everything here, of any form, any objects, including any sense of me and I, and anything this sense could be placed on. There is a stirring of fear (and an allowing of the fear, and of the profound silence and stillness.)

The vast deep silence is now arising as everything, and all form arises as and within this profound silence and stillness.

This vast silence and stillness, arising as and within everything, stays with me. Everything is arising as and within this profound silence. It is a different ground of everything.