This article is graciously provided for republication by the author, Swami Nityamuktananda Saraswati (Dr. Christa-Maria Herrmann), German by birth, naturalized British, originally studying Theology, her university studies soon expanded to Education, Psychology, Philosophy and Art and Design (Ceramics). Different teaching jobs (in colleges and universities) in various countries followed. At the center of her studies (as well as her teaching) was always the subject of 'Self-awareness'.
Such undertaking is of course a personal experience, but never the less there are insights to share so as to grow together. The adventure (or 'Safari', as Swami Veda called it) will be different for each one, as we all have different constitutions. Even feelings like anger, love or loneliness are experienced differently by different people; a gross example: a person dominated by the Fire Element might feel lonely at a party, because he is not the center of attention for five minutes; a Water dominated person might not feel lonely isolated on a mountain top 500 miles from anyone.
The second point to make is that Silence, in the Himalayan tradition, does not only mean: "no talking"; it means to limit sense stimulation as much as possible, so that the mind can become still and experience pure awareness (That means no reading, ideally no, or very little, communication - including internet.) The path to that interior silence is long because of the nature of our mind, so we need all manner of help from the yogic tool-box, such as conscious walking, nadi-shodanam, meditation, and even doing asanas (all with awareness and focus, of course). In this tradition, though mantra plays a crucial role in educating and elevating the mind. In addition (for long periods of silence) another tool is used: Fire offerings.
The third point to make before the narration can start is to realize that any spiritual venture we undertake with the Guru's grace begins "long before it starts"! In fact as soon as you made a decision to do some particular practice, Gu-ru will start working on you.
So keep these three points in mind.
Most people today have a busy schedule, for this person it means: commitments to travel and teaching. To be asked to take three month "non-communicado", triggered a major operation in re-planning. Some things had to be post-phoned, some cancelled, and for one particular project, the participants were asked, whether they would go ahead...but without this person.
And then there was not only a house-hold to organize, but the selling of the same...and so!!!
One of the considerations was/is where to do the Silence? The decisive point is, that for such endeavor one needs to be energetically and physically close one's guide. So by divine Grace this one was allowed to stay in the Old Swami Rama Ashram (Sadhana Mandir) on the banks of the Ganga.
There were many people who knew about this step, they wanted to help. I received gifts galore. From Aloe-vera cream for burns, to note-pads and pens, supplementary foods such as kilos of almonds, nuts and raisins; to coffee and sweets, to warm socks, a hot-water bottle, oils to rub into sore joints and muscles and even "instant food"; well - and of course chocolate. I am the type that says: "I am alright, Jack; I don't need anything"; so although I had prepared nothing; Divine providence, through friends from as far as UK, Singapore, US, Mumbai and the ashram had given me ample. Each gift, even those that seemed" crazy", came into use. The Great Mother was taking care of this one, being, true to her nature: "Giving".
Yes, it is important to consider before hand what you might need, especially what emergencies and medicine you might need, because one thing is sure: You don't know what will happen!
OK, all prepared, ready to go...
I arrived; the house hadn't been lived in for years; imagine that in dusty India (yes there was a caretaker doing his job, but...(even the idea what cleanliness means is a question of mental conditioning! And mine wasn't Indian! Watch these deep cultural patterns that we take for granted). Imagine the dust and mix that with damp cold weather and air pollution (how cold? 5 heavy blankets cold!). The result: within hours I coughed severely.
Now picture a mud-hut 9 foot by 9 foot (a fire-pit in the center) that had not been cleaned for who knows how long? Nearly 6 hours of fire- offerings were scheduled there; add the soot and smoke to the aforesaid and my lungs were in hell! Frankly, within days I was ready to give up!
But "angels came; friends helped cleaning the room and bathroom; the fire-hut was cleaned and repainted (traditionally of course, with mud!); another angel brought me stacks of surgical masks to wear in the fire hut to protect me against inhaling soot and smoke.
All set, second round, lets go... never mind the cough (cough easily); it will pass; I am a very fit, healthy person! Well, we see about that!
My body thought otherwise. The cough was joined soon by unexplainable nausea; and equally in-explainable gut-problems (no normal "Delhi-belly"). What I mean with that...? Guts that do not obey your control, and suddenly you are glad you wear loose, dark orange colored clothes and it's not that far to the bath room (an efficient and quick way to demolish any feeling of superiority and other ego traits)!
No, it was not the food, because at the time, I was privileged to share the home-cooking of a very health conscious American sister; Swami Ma Radha (shared the house for the first half of my time). The answer to my problem was fasting; which might have been the cause of the dizziness that befell me next! Then my lower back (Sacro illiac) went; the pain effected my every move and worse still my sitting (consider that we sat for many hours either in Meditation, nadi-shodanam, fire-offering etc.) a considerable handicap.
The middle back followed and finally my right shoulder and arm showed no mercy (those familiar with alternative medicine can read this path of purification going right back to earliest childhood. (Watch the mind being busy, analyzing everything)!
Now I am an unusually healthy person, haven't had reason to see a doctor for decades. And here for about one month I was constantly plagued by some or other physical ailment.
What on earth went on?
Two things: one on a personal level, the second more general.
This person, from childhood on, needed a lot (8 hours and more) of sleep (another old ingrained pattern). She sleeps like a baby, anywhere, even in crisis. Now the schedule we were given for the Silence started at 3.30 am and finished at 10.00 pm , leaving 5 1/2 hours to sleep. Trying to be a "good student" (watch the mind; for whom am I doing this? who is the inner police-man? ); at first this person did as asked. Already after a few days the body rebelled, being deprived of sleep; the grossest, most physical level was challenged to change a life-long pattern. (Watch your deepest patterns; we all have these, what is yours?).
Deprived of sleep, and at times fasting, I lost a lot of weight, felt increasingly weak , dis-functionate and disorientated (despite nutritional supplements galore!).
Then I wrote to Swami Veda, His answer: 'At our age, we must use the body within our capacity.'
I took that to mean to be more lenient with my self, took time to sleep more and things started to improve (including the gut-problem).
Why do I share this? If you undertake such serious practice, be aware of the unexpected. I started the project all "up and ready to go", confident and supported - and for the entire first month "I" was gradually demolished, and that on a level where least expected.
But there is of course, as indicated, more to it, than simply sleep deprivation.
The other totally new aspect was the prolonged work with fire and mantra.
Alot has been said about the Element "Fire", here let's just take the buzzword: transformation.
Now sitting one or two feet away for hours this transformation becomes real. One sees how the energy released from the wood becomes flame, becomes light; a constant transforming process from gross matter to subtle energy i.e. light. Now this is no calm process, there is enormous activity in the flames, they move continuously, they dance, they swirl - in sheets, in gushes, ever rising flames of many colors. My favorite ones were the little flames that twirl around themselves like the tail of a piglet.
Such intense movement of energy happening a foot or two away from the body, must have an effect; think: My body is energy, energy radiates, in fact we talk of layers i.e. having five bodies and auras.
These energy fields vary in different people, but are normally between 1 and 6 foot beyond the physical body. That means the activity of the fire in front of me actually happens within my greater body! The swirls of the fire are pulling and changing my energy-field, hence my body, subtle and gross! Pretty obvious really... (be aware of the mind creating all sorts of concepts for your entertainment!)
Moreover watching the intense transformative power becomes absorbing; the awareness shifts to the same process of constant transformative power from matter to energy happening in each of my cells. I feel the essence of fire within myself. Dare I say it? "I am aware of being fire"; this is not meant as a metaphor or referring to the constitutional Element - but let's leave it that for now.
(Be aware, that even actually seeing this...is merely an expression of the mind; thoughts, concepts images, the mind uses them all! For one purpose... to distract you!)
It had taken the whole of the first month, for my body to adapt. But as many factors gradually became less hard to deal with (less soot in the hut, more clement weather, and a less harsh routine) the physical body got stronger again, the cough got less and I could actually enjoy my environment. I really had a fabulous room with two big windows and a balcony in spitting distance of the Ganga. I sat there for nadi-shodanam, for sipping tea while watching wild Elephants coming to bath on the other shore - or simply to watch the Ganga, balancing Fire with Water. It really was/is magic; In the evening I go for a walk along the Ganga, just like the villagers do with their children. There is evening Aarati (waving lights to worship Mother Ganga) and a little along every evening some women gathered by a Ghat and chant to Mother Ganga. Sometimes they got intoxicated by their own worship and singing and got up and danced in total absorption to ancient movements. Gradually they got to know me as I walked passed and smiled, beckoning me to come and join (which I resisted). It was heart warming, just to make contact by smiling at each other. The children started to wave or at least smile shyly. This simple honest contact filled my heart with joy and at times I could have joined them happily: (Watch your senses, they take anything pleasant to distract you! Pleasant or unpleasant it is a trick of the mind to lure you into engaging!)
If the first round was about the body, the second round was about the mind. My mind did not become quiet, instead the opposite happened. It became incredible creative, I suddenly understood so much, had so many insights; especially about my own life. Suddenly I saw threads of connections, understood how the carpet of my life had been woven, some strands reaching beyond this birth. Over and over new and deeper threads revealed the complexity of life. It dawned why I was where I was, and how an entire life had led to this moment in time. Over a period of three weeks this went on then it stopped as suddenly as it had started.
(Watch your mind! Some other time, or for someone else the mental level might bring up past experiences and emotions, be they unpleasant or pleasurable;there might also be a phase of stupor. The remedy is to recognize these thoughts as : impermanent and insubstantial" - witness and let it go.. Don't get involved and give it energy - after all, all this is just the mind at play.)
Just before two month were over, I received two CD's to study, and of course I did, my mind leapt at the opportunity of some "outside stimulus"; especially as this time my "sister" left and I settled into a new routine. As I listened to the CD's one issue in particular stood out and was to be my guide for the third phase:
"Stillness does come from realizing a certain kind of energy; you cannot be still without energy. Energy does not move you, it stills you. That is a secret many do not know, because they equate kinetics and energy; kinetics is energy in movement, it's the last product of energy- where it dissipates into Motion. You have to reabsorb the kinetic force of energy, back into yourself- so it becomes stillness."
It was, as though after all this time Silence took on a different color. Recently I had been watching a professional dancer moving intensely into - intense stillness. I understood that Silence and stillness go together. To be in "that kind of energy" then meant no limitation, in fact Silence understood on this level means freedom! With this insight a new goal post was revealed; work could begin. It was then that I felt like Oliver in the Musical: "Please Sir, can I have some more!"; can I have another three month; three years..." Gone was the mental concept: I "know all about it"! Heard and even said it myself: "Not speaking is just the simplest beginning" - but suddenly there was awareness of the herculean task that lay ahead!
The third phase was marked by finally focusing on what was intended. But it wasn't an easy ride. By now the weather had gone from cold damp to stifling warmth; the air was still and heavy! It was as though there was no air in the air! (Take care to choose what climate or time of year is best for your physical constitution. It might safe a lot of distraction) To my surprise, again it was the physical that bothered me." So much for " I am alright, anywhere at any time?" HM! Help was sent: It was Navaratri and every morning for 9 days there was Puja (worship) and mantra chanting to the Goddess, the Great Mother. Attending that, acted as a constant string, that pulled me back to the task..."get back into that vast ocean of quietness - for how ever many seconds you can manage!" And there was progress... my body was happy to sleep less, meaning: I could start the day at 4 am without the body rebelling!
Now you might ask: "Did you really not speak and keep to yourself all that time?" Well, no; there was the need to participate in some functions i.e. a Sanyas Diksha; an important lecture or someone's birthday - but mainly without speaking. "Mainly?"- "So you did break the silence?" Yes! There are moments, where it just happens. Like someone knocks at the door and your mind is elsewhere..: habitually you say: "Come in"! In the same way I caught myself whispering to the gecko or the innumerous squirrels which came visiting; and then there were the human visitors - yes some sentences were spoken - mostly un- intentionally. (Note: the crux lies - not in speaking, but in how we feel afterwards.) Trapped, guilty, wondering who will find out, what they think...and the whole mental gambit of guilt is played....(So don't feel guilty, when you transgress, it happens. It means we are not as self-aware as we think. So increase your awareness, and intent (sankalpa) that's all) .
One thing everyone struggled with is the internet. We think we need to be "in touch", need to be "connected" and "involved"; (why? - is interesting to explore...OK; get it, more mind-stuff). My solution was to limit it to once a week, for an hour and only attend to "what screamed at me as urgent". More or less it worked, especially if I went early mornings; nobody about to interact with!
If I was asked what is the net result of the whole undertaking. Much happens on the energy level that will unfold in time.
The second point starts with awareness of how much of what I consider "me" is mind-stuff, which triggers behavior. Here an example:
During a certain spell of warm and heavy humid weather, the air was oppressively still. And then one morning suddenly there was wind and a few drops of rain. I rushed out to the bank of the Ganga, and danced in the wind; I went right down to the waters edge, swirling with open arms... like mad; unconcerned of whether anyone saw me. - Afterwards I became aware, that very sense of feeling fresh cool moving air...as beautiful - as ecstatically invigorating, is conditioned, is learned. I come from a cool climate, of fresh clean moving air!
Later when the Indians came out, they moved slowly brazing themselves against the wind (as though a gale was blowing), they were wrapped up, their body language closed, protecting themselves! Everything we experience, see, understand is somehow a construction of our mind; Not me, not mine! Seeing that, we see the next level.
The second point that stood out for me (a different topic of course for everyone) was that I had forgotten how fragile beings we are; especially when we get older. The "am alright Jack" needed serious adjustment, I have to learn to accept that this being is getting old and needs to take care accordingly. HM? Who get's old? Surely the being that get's old is a body conditioned by mind-stuff on many levels, there is no "me" to get old!
It seems like two perspectives at juxtaposition. To bring these points together one has to go to another level all together. And that leads to the phrase that captured my imagination about stillness/silence being "different kind of energy", one that is fullness, which is freedom, which is ...the formless, Ultimate Reality.
None other than divine energy is conditioned into a certain form by "mind" activity. If that is so, then Silence is the moment of : No-Mind; no mind means stillness, potency! Stillness is that moment of no mind which is full, is "different energy" before it moves into differentiation- be it of movement or thought.
That Stillness, that Silence is then the Source from which all unfolds - call it what you might. With that, practicing silence is working on returning back to the Center, that which contains all. To return to that center is what in the Yoga Sutras (3) is described as:
Tada drastuh svarupe vasthanam. (Return to your original nature).
That means Practicing Silence is practicing YOGA.
It's walking back to the Ultimate Reality, to our origin hence we came. OK then let's practice Yoga! How?
Find that space in your center where there is Silence, fullness, peace and from there live! Return back into the lap of the Great Mother, as she eventually returns back to Shiva, the one that sits for ever in stillness.
How to get there? Follow the trail of Silence; practice inner stillness....how long?
Three life-times, three years, three month silence, three weeks silence, three days silence, 3 hours silence, 3 minutes silence, 3 seconds silence; what did Swami Veda say: "according to your capacity"; that's where to start. So let's start and practice silence!