“Let silence take you to the core of life.” - Rumi
In our busy lives, we rarely get to experience true silence. The noise of the modern world constantly pollutes our inner space, as we are surrounded by so many external factors, which fight for our attention. Sometimes, even when we do our sadhana, when we do our kriyas, our mind is already rushing somewhere else. But due to this constant habit of “rushing” somewhere, very “trendy” in our modern world, we end up getting disconnected from our soul and we somehow lose ourselves on the way. And this is why it so important from time to time to just stop this inner race, to leave everything behind, and find ourselves again – in silence.
In November this year, which was at the same time the end of sacred Kartik month, I had this blessed opportunity to participate in silent retreat with Guruji in Puri. As I had a really busy year, being for several days in silence and deepening my spiritual practice under Gurudev’s guidance was something that my soul was truly yearning for. But, as it often is, I had no idea, how deep and beautiful this experience can be. And because it touched my heart so deeply, I thought to share with you a little bit of how it is to be on silent retreat with Guruji – because, honestly, this is something that every kriya yogi should experience at least once in a lifetime.
But, firstly, what is silence?
This is the question that Gurudev asked to each and everyone of us in the very beginning of the retreat. There were many answers. And when we finished, Guruji said:
“It is nice what you said about silence. Beautiful words. But I will ask you to forget about all this. Can you do that? Because you see, if you hold on what you have just said, you will not get anywhere.”
What we usually understand by the word “silence” is the external silence – but we forget to cultivate the inner silence. Even if you go to the most silent place in the world, but you don’t make a conscious effort to keep your inner noise down with the help of japam and self-analysis, then instead of experiencing actual silence, you will just experience relaxation in the best case scenario and frustration in the worst – as your mind will be constantly trying to fill up the emptiness of external silence with its countless thoughts, desires and expectations. But true silence has little to do with lack of sound. For a yogi, true silence is to dive beyond the thoughts and emotions to the still waters of the soul, unmoved by the changing waves of the mind.
And then Guruji told us about great silence.
“The Self in itself is the ocean of quietness. That is why when you look at saints, when they come to the point of realisation, actually, that realisation is called the great silence awakening. So the great silence means, you can be in the world, in the middle of New York, you can be doing anything, but inside you are peaceful. Nothing moves you. Whereas, when your mind is busy, you are full of expectation, full of desires. You become a slave of that.”
“The saints, their mind, they can do anything, but the attachment is not there. Whereas you, when you do something, when your mind is very active, what happens? You attach yourself. Your mind gets attached to things which you do. So, due to that the world becomes your reality. Whereas, the saints, their mind is attached to the Divine. So, they can do anything. Nothing can move them. So, this is the state of great silence. When the mind enters the quiet state.”
And the silent retreat has started.
During the retreat we were not allowed to use any mobile phones, laptops or even books – they were all collected by the organisers. It was just you, your japa mala and your mind. But the purpose was to become more aware of something – or rather somebody – more: the Great Observer. The one who dwells in silence and observes even the mind itself.
Every morning we started our day with Surya Namaskar and Atma Kriya Yoga practice on the beach, shortly after sunrise. Then, after breakfast, we would either go on japa walk on the shore of Indian ocean or a silent visit to one of the sacred sites nearby.
Even the meals were quite special, as Guruji wanted us to eat blindfolded. He also encouraged us to mix all the food together, while eating, not to entertain the senses in any way and to practice disinterest. Because when we stop feeding the mind with external experiences, only then something deeper has a chance to emerge on the surface of our consciousness.
But the real inner work was happening after lunch, when for 4 hours we would sit in complete silence (without even going to the beach, as it was “too much entertainment for the mind”, as Guruji said), do our japam and observe the mind.
What was my experience of silent retreat?
I think that everyone has experienced at least once in life something so deep, beautiful and profound, that we are almost afraid to put it into to words, so the mind doesn’t mess up with it and diminish its sacredness. For me, that was one of such experiences. One thing I tell you, that before silent retreat, I knew, with my mind, that I truly need it. But until I actually was there, I had no idea how my soul actually yearned for it. With my mind busy with everyday life, how could I possibly hear this silent call of the soul?
When you experience 5 days of complete silence, you touch something so deep within yourself, that your priorities are bound to change. You suddenly realise that you have been paying attention and stressing yourself too much about things, which are so unworthy of it, that the mind automatically releases its grip from them. And you simply feel so much more free – and so much more willing to dive deeper into your sadhana and give it much more of your attention, time and love. Because you realise what a treasure it is.
But the experience, which touched me the most, was complete darkness.
On the last day of silence, during the retreat, we needed to spend the entire day in darkness, blindfolded, as well as in complete silence. And even though it may sound a bit scary to some, I tell you, this was for me probably the most beautiful and profound experience during the entire retreat. Later on I heard similar experiences from others. Before we entered the darkness, Guruji explained to us, that when we are in complete darkness, the mind is forced to return to its very core, its very root – and it starts to ask itself these four most important life questions: “Who am I? What am I doing here? Where do I come from? Where am I heading?” It starts to inquire about the Observer himself. And it gets reconnected with our higher self.
Interestingly, Guruji also told us, that when we meditate in complete darkness, without falling asleep, some deep healing processes are also happening in our bodies and minds. I had an opportunity to experience it first hand. As I was quite sick during the entire retreat, I wasn’t really pleased with my silence, because I was constantly coughing. But during the entire day in darkness, my coughing was slowly diminishing and diminishing – and I actually felt much more easiness in my throat, like it was physically healing faster. This experience itself was for me so impressive, that it really made me think: how much our everyday lives would be easier if we would just really take a bit of effort from time to time, shut everything else down, and simply…
After the day spent in darkness, our 5 days of silence were coming to an end. We spent the last evening in silence on the beach with the bonfire. After we broke our silence, while looking at the moon, we did a short OM Chanting near the fire. After these 5 days in silence, to experience OM Chanting, accompanied by the loud sound of ocean’s waves, was such a soothing and beautiful experience. It just felt full and complete.
After we broke our silence, Guruji took time to spend the evening with us and encouraged us to share some of our experiences. It was so beautiful to hear, how everybody experienced silence differently and discovered his/her own treasure in it. Guruji was smiling silently, while listening to us. And then he gently reminded us, that 5 days of silence are just the first step to experience this great silence inside.
But if we truly want that, we need to practice silence regularly.
We are all busy in our daily lives. But, as Guruji said, even 5 minutes a day in silence, can make a difference, if practised wholeheartedly.
This silent retreat was truly one of the most profound experiences in my life. And I can only wish for you sincerely to have a similar opportunity in the future – and to take it.