In previous posts, I have referred to my participation in the Self-Realization Fellowship, an inclusive spiritual organization dedicated to the philosophy and meditation and healing techniques of Paramahansa Yogananda. This Silent Sunday detours from past entries, in that today’s piece introduces what will become the “Sayings Series,” based on the writings and spiritual musings of Paramahansa Yogananda. His writing style is unique, sometimes childlike in its simplicity; other thoughts are expressed with a depth only possible from a spiritually evolved being. The Sayings Series will contemplate his thoughts, and when appropriate, offer a practice that relates to the ideas.
Special note: The series will appear on any given day of the week: When inspiration arrives, it will be addressed.
So today, rather than presenting a physical or meditative practice, I encourage you to ponder the idea of Decoding Silence. The first offering in the Sayings Series will stem from the section on “Silence” in Paramahansa’s Spiritual Diary. This pocket-sized gem is a year’s worth of thoughts and observations on a variety of topics that often prove to be particularly challenging in the pursuit of spiritual development: challenging, yet necessary.
Although Silent Sundays originated out of my affinity for silence and solitude, I recently began to ruminate on the different kinds of silence, and the occasions during which they typically arise. A day dedicated to silence-as-disciplined-practice yields a much different brand of inner quiet than does silence born of bafflement or overwhelm. There is also the silence that results from a conscious decision to withhold response. And, too, there is the silence that accompanies creative pursuits: Although akin to a spiritual practice, the focus is on the artwork, or craft, or cooking, or writing. Spiritual silence, however, aims to establish the optimal environment to invoke and receive—to devote to—the Divine.
My own recent thoughts about “decoding silence” arose after an interaction with my mother that has become a frequent exchange: Her refrain centers around wanting to return “home,” yet a query as to what that means engenders an, “I don’t know.” Her method of raising the idea of wanting to move from her lovely home on a lake can range from a sweet, “I have a question…,” to: a frantic, ”I don’t want to spend the rest of my life here!”
Most recently, she has decided that my beloved apartment of 15 years was her home in the past. Because my abode has swaddled me through some of the most wondrous and also some of the most difficult times of my life—and because other than the house where I was raised, is the place I have lived the longest—my mother’s usurping of what is for me a sacred space, feels like a theft, a true “home invasion.”
Countless attempts to dissuade her of her adamant belief that my home was hers first, and innumerable, fruitless attempts (and resulting arguments) to remind her that the house in which she resides is, indeed, hers, leave both of us frustrated and exhausted. I tense with each visit or phone call, hoping that the topic does not arise: I also say a prayer each day to help me “do better” should she begin the questioning. I do not want her to feel discontent, misunderstood, or rudderless; nor, however, do I want to enter into the fray each time the subject comes up.
And then last week, as I was walking out the door of her home, she softly wondered if she could ask a question. I closed my eyes in a silent beckoning for God, and steeled myself to be, ironically, soft and compassionate. Mom said her piece, and then added: “This may not be something you want to—or can—answer, and that’s okay.”
This was a never-before-heard addition to her usual opening. After no more than five seconds, my insides quieted, and I decided to take her up on it: I did not respond… at all. I simply kept readying myself to depart, and soon made a small comment about something completely unrelated and mundane: She responded appropriately; we had moved on.
Of course, there will be another instance of the usual query; however, I was stunned by how simple it was to accept the offer of non-response. Had my mother not said that, I would have felt disrespectful in what would certainly have seemed a blatant dismissal of her question. Instead, the option to be silent was presented, and it was the very best choice.
So, I invite you to think about Silence: What is its role in your life? When is it uncomfortable, and when is it a true relief, a route to emotional safety or peaceful interaction? In upcoming writings, the topic of Silence will be front and center; later, different subjects will be addressed in the Sayings Series. For now: