Being a full time sevak with the Art of Living Foundation, coordinating its Rural Development Programs, my travel schedule is very hectic. My recent trips have been to Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh & Uttranchal, all in a span of 40 days. As I was finally taking my early morning flight from Delhi to Bangalore Ashram (my home and workplace), I opened my laptop to review the long list of proposals that I had to review, my pending office appointments and the 300 odd unanswered mails I had in my outbox. As the flight took off, I looked outside to draw inspiration from the clear blue skies emitting the first rays of the morning sun (one of the reasons why I take the early morning flights), but could not see anything but clouds. I then tried to close my eyes to meditate, but could not think of anything but the tasks that I needed to complete once I reach my office.
On reaching Bangalore Airport, I booked a cab to the Ashram. As I reached Ashram, it was little past breakfast time. I left my bags in my room and called up office saying that I will reach office after in an hours time. My mind was bogged down by the continuous pressure of work. I thought to myself, let me do my sadhna before breakfast, but the mind completely rejected the thought saying, “BOSS you have a lot of work to do and your team expects you in office after such a long gap. As I sat on the breakfast table, Suresh Babu, a divine angel sent by Gurudev came by my table and asked me “ Have you also come for the Week Iong Guru Poornima Art of Silence Program that has started today”. I replied to Suresh Babu “Wish I could join”, to which he replied back “ You have just missed the Long Kriya and that there is another long kriya happening in the evening for some people who came late”. I took this as a divine call and quickly went to the admin office to register for the course. A part of me was saying, “You fool, you have so much work” but another part of me was persistently saying “Work will happen, first clear the clutter in your mind”. You are a Sadhak first, and if your mind starts finding excuses for not doing your sadhna, then its time to tame it, and what better tool then a 7 days Art of Silence Program at the ashram.
I was 20 minutes late for the first session. The first words I heard of Vasanti Ji, our Silence program teacher was “ We all are Fakirs who have come here to meet our beloved & fakirs don’t carry mobiles and fancy bags. They just carry a cloth on which they sit or lie down & a bottle of water. Luckily for you fakirs, food and stay will not be an issue here in the ashram”.
In the evening we were supposed to inform every one that we will not be reachable for the next 7 days. When I told my family and team about my plans they could not understand the rational behind being in silence for 7 days. I think my mother was the only one who could understand me. I did not bother to explain any one and was eagerly waiting to become void, to let my mind and thoughts turn into ashes, to once again experience the bliss within me.
From the second day our silence with hollow and empty meditations began. This is when I realised that when the mouth shuts, the mind becomes double active. I was sitting in hollow and empty meditation and my mind was setting up a Food Processing & Ginger oil extraction unit for rural farmers in Assam. Our teacher told us to surrender all our thoughts & desires at the feet of the divine, and as I surrendered, one thought, a new thought of buying a piece of land to set up a model organic farm came up in my mind. My mind travelled the whole of India searching for a place to set up a model organic farm while my body was sitting in the meditation hall, in chin mudra, with eyes closed. Before I realised the game my mind was playing, the hollow and empty meditation in Poojya Gurudev’s voice got over and I felt completely hopeless for wasting a meditation session in thinking about things that did not even exist that very moment.
The third day was no better either. Its only that the mind graduated from setting up a model organic farm for rural farmers, to how good it will be to have such retreats closer to the Himalayas. My mind went on a spree of setting up a meditation and retreat centre with a 280 degree view of the Himalayas. I started travelling to Uttrakhand, Himachal, Gangtok, Bhutan in search for a land, with absolutely no ticket. It went to the extent of even designing the meditation room with glass windows overlooking the Himalayan ranges. My mind was running like a horse without reins and I was trying to ride the horse, to direct it this way or that. By the time I was over with my hallucinations, I realised that yet another hollow and empty meditation was over and I was feeling hollow and empty. My mind had fully substituted my mouth and was doing all the talking. I felt like a mad man. The only difference was that a mad person talks aloud to himself and I was talking to myself. Every day in the night we used to have recorded knowledge sessions of Gurudev and Gurudev on the first day said that “Have a tool gate in your mind and keep on checking the thoughts that are coming and going”. I started making tool gates in my mind but the moment I closed one , the other opened, then the other opened and after a certain point of time I couldn’t even count the number of tool gates I had in my mind.
As I look back I realised that we all are unconsciously doing this our whole life. We have completely forgotten that the process of talking can begin or end “at will”. We are so habituated to talking that we even talk in our sleep, all 24 hours of the day talking is automatic. We keep on talking and rehearsing. Before talking to someone we rehearse the dialogue internally and then after the conversation is over we repeat over and over all that happened- what I said and what you said and then what I said. We gradually forget what we are losing by talking unnecessarily. Externally we might be gaining something but internally we are losing contact with the self. We are getting closer to people but we are getting further away from the self. And the more adept we become in this game, the more difficult it becomes for us to go into silence.
From the fourth day, I started understanding the tricks of our mind. I started to become a witness to my thoughts and was not trying to enforce any orders, as I started beginning to realise that one word was giving rise to another, to another and a thousand others, because all things were connected. On day 4 after the afternoon session, as I became truly helpless with my hopeless mind, I remember kneeling down before Gurudev’s photograph that was kept in the room. As I touched my head to the flowers kept near his picture, tears started rolling down my eyes. I was by then completely fed up of my chattering mind and prayed with all my heart requesting him to show me the way. I no more wanted to be in the valley of thoughts but on the lofty peaks where thoughts could not reach, in a space where there is only unbroken silence. On the fourth night, Gurudev said something that completely pierced my mind. He said “Thoughts are like clouds, they come and go. If your focus is on the clouds then you will never be able to see the infinite sky beyond it. Hold on to the blue sky you see between the clouds and after some time the clouds will automatically vanish”. That very moment I closed my eyes and was transported to a realm unknown to my mind. When I got up it was 11.15 pm and the night watchman was silently sitting outside the door. He was instructed by someone not to disturb me and to lock the room only after I left.
The next three days were one of the the most memorable days of my life. Gradually and very faintly I started to hear the footsteps of silence. I felt like a bird that had just been set free from the cage of the mind and now had nothing between its wings and the infinite sky. I can’t truly describe this experience as silence can only be felt and not explained. During my evening walks to the Ganpati Mandap at the Ved Agama, I began to listen to the winds stirring the trees. I begin to listen to the dry leaves fall. Sitting by the lake side I could hear the small waves in the water touching each other and could hear birds sing the glory of the sun set which they were witnessing. As I began to understand the silence within me, I began to realise that this silence is the principle of all the existence. It is in this silence that everything in this creation exists. It is in this silence that a seed grows and becomes a tree, that sun rises and sets. It is in this silence that the 5 elements mix with each other in different permutations and combinations, creating everything we see around us. When we can learn how to listen to the silence, the void within, then there is nothing more to learn, because it is from that void where all the learning happens.
I feel that all the Gurus and all religions aim at only one thing; and that is to break this chattering within. Whether we call it yoga or meditation or repetition of mantras, the aim is to break the constant internal flow of words so that we can truly listen to ourself. If the internal dialogue stops even for a moment, we find the whole expanse of space opening within us; all that was yet unknown begins to be known. He who was a total stranger, with whom we were not acquainted at all, becomes our very own. The last two days of the course I felt as if I was sitting at the feet of my Guru. In the presence of a Guru there is nothing to say and everything to hear. We just listen and sit quietly.
Its been 4 days since I have come out of my silence, but can feel that a part of me is still in silence. This was my 13th Art of Silence Program, but it felt like my first. I feel Like I am just beginning to understand the true glory of silence.
Full Time Faculty with Art of Living
Pic Courtesy : Buddha Doodles & Deepak Sharma