Reflecting on the Self in the Mirror of Silence
By Farah Daghistani
IT IS DIFFICULT TO CONVEY IN WORDS WHAT IS best learned in silence. I had underestimated how unprepared I was to talk about the experience of silence in my life. While writing about silence, I learned how unprepared, overall, I still am at making the transition from the world of silence to the physical world in which we live.
Having said that, however, the awareness of silence and the richness it encompasses did not leave me after participating in the Call-of-the-Time Dialogue, even when I became re-submerged in the chaos of the inevitable everyday activities. After leaving this experience in Oxford, my knowledge of peace and the insight that I glimpsed remained intact. I believe that it is because we were not only given access to an authentic communion with our own souls but also a chance to connect at a spiritual level with others as well. The memory of that does not go away!
What struck me about the experience of silence was how familiar it felt. Not the people, nor the place as such, but the silence itself. It felt natural; it was like revisiting a place I knew well, even after a very long time of being away from it. Through silence, we have the chance to tap into some ancient knowledge that we had but lost, through our own lack of love and our refusal to embrace that state of grace, which is our birthright. When people talk about the difficult path to spiritual enlightenment, I find myself disagreeing. It is not about accumulating vast amounts of new knowledge; it is about reclaiming something that was ours all along. Through silence, we can reconnect with that ancient soul wisdom. It is part of our spiritual genetics! And, like a person who has learned to ride a bicycle, the soul never forgets.
How far we have allowed ourselves to stray and, in doing so, how much we have lost sight of what is real. I learned that maya, the Hindi term for illusion, comes in many forms. Through silence, I realized that I had somehow managed to evolve an illusionary spirituality, which had nothing to do with real spirituality. For me, only silence has the power to make me really see where I have been fooling myself, and to recognize the fake from the real. Talking about spirituality, and even thinking about it, often fools me into believing that I am making progress. My subtle tendencies towards reverting to illusion, to sabotage myself, to take what I think is the easy way out, or to appease my ego, become apparent in silence. Yet I can let go of my shortcomings since, through silence, I am not compelled to react, and I am no longer in competition with my own self-image and myself. Although it hides nothing, silence is a forgiving teacher.
The virtue of detachment is undervalued and misunderstood, particularly in times such as the present. Detachment means to be compassionate in the purest sense, in that it is not shaped by self-interest. I had allowed my own practice of detachment to become false, because it was a device to distance myself from what I did not want to face or deal with. Silence reminded me of this. Silence reminded me that detachment does not only mean being merely detached from the world, but also being detached from myself, my own drama and self-interests. I had forgotten that. Detachment is to be an observer.
I always knew that I had the best influence on those around me when I felt best about myself, yet somehow failed to consistently incorporate this into my life. This takes courage and self-confidence. The need to speak, to prove, to impress, to be admired, to be responded to, and even to be sympathized with, often won. I can feel tarnished as a result of these needs, and the feeling of self-violation can lead to deeper levels of feeling tarnished, because we do not improve when we feel bad about ourselves. In silence, I see myself in light, which stops me from chasing the shadows of gratification that come from constantly asserting my presence in the world. In silence, I am never ugly or disrespectful to myself, and therefore feel no need to cause myself pain or humiliation.
I know through silence when I should speak. I was fortunate to have precious moments in Dadi Janki's company during the Call-of-the-Time Dialogue. Her words made sense when she offered them, and continue to make sense afterwards. We must be ones who act out the will of God, and who shine God's light. I knew then that my own definition of silence had been mistaken. Lack of action, or sitting on the sidelines, comes from fear and lethargy. In real silence, there is no confusion about when to act. Without planning it, I emerge from silence with clarity of purpose, and the knowledge of how and when and why to speak and act. This is why I need to dwell in silence more. Not just for the sake of silence alone, but so that my interventions in the world are accurate and do not lead to waste.
On reflecting upon our time in Oxford, I also realized that what I need to learn is not only to embrace silence myself, but also how to benefit from my own silence and the silence of others. I have seen Dadi Janki do this and I appreciate how important it is. I have seen Dadi listen to the pain and suffering of others and, without words, guide them to a place of peace. I have a tendency, born out of my own fear of pain and suffering, not to allow that to be expressed to others. I would interject, comment, call it by another name, and deny it, anything to quell it through my words. This response denies others the chance to deal with that pain. My desire to converse or to visibly deal with the subject is not only disrespecting the source of suffering in others, but it is also putting my own ego in between their experience and the peace I could share with them.
I reflected on the pressure to always be a spokesperson. Silence has helped me to be able to separate the desire to defend, criticize, or argue from the true desire to spread peace. There is so much pain in the world. This has been the case for a long time but, just because it may touch me now, it does not mean that I should feel compelled to help spread it further. People can be like hurt and scared children who are spiteful and aggressive because of their fear. Silence takes me to a level where I can be forgiving and understanding. Without silence I lack the generosity of spirit required to be that way, for I am too busy looking for ways to defend my ego, my pain, my fear. This misguided course compounds the problem.
Silence teaches me that I need to discipline myself. Even though my mind can twist and turn, the experience of silence cannot be tarnished or questioned. I have only to revert to it, and this gives me the clarity to see the aberrations and distortions of my faulty intellect. From that silence, I can see the world differently and hear it clearly. Silence gives me glasses and hearing aids with which to understand that which appears to be around me. It is like the story of the emperor's new clothes, in that I am no longer fooled by illusions.
I learn more and more each day that the responsibility of arriving at grace is ours alone, and that it is within our reach. There will always be help and support on hand, but we must take the initiative to recognize and accept them when they are offered. Sometimes they are so obvious that they are invisible! I have found that silence works in such subtle and powerful ways, that the returns and rewards can be beyond my wildest dreams. At the same time, they can be as light and unobtrusive as a feather. I have a long way ahead of me but, then again, seeing it as a journey with a destination is a false dichotomy. Every moment is a journey, and every moment spent in silence is a destination in itself.