by Galina Krasskova
excerpt from Wightridden: Paths of Northern-Tradition Shamanism
I think it fairly safe to say that as children many of us heard the maxim: "Silence is golden." Well, in magical practice it actually is. I've been thinking about this quite a bit lately. I live in NYC and at the best of times, silence is not an element this city generally has to offer. There is constant noise, even in the wee hours of the morning, even in one's own home with doors and windows closed to the outside world. The noise is part of the cityscape, born of the very structures that give it vitality and keep it alive. New York, like every city, has its own unique energy and even those energy flows hum with their own particular sounds and rhythms. Even the quietest, most remote place in a city landscape is fraught with ambient noise. It can be maddening.
What's more, American culture is not a quiet one. We are a people obsessed with noise. We have our mechanical gadgets that chirp and burp and hum. We indulge in ambient noise in elevators, restaurants, cafes. Conversations are loud and often continual. Cell phones are everywhere and the idea that consciously sought out silence might have extraordinary benefits is not one that I myself have seen discussed in either popular culture or media. Yet it does, and not just for the dedicated magical practitioner. Noise pollution leads to stress and stress leads to kinetic traps that block internal energy and vitality. Lack of vitality can make it almost impossible not only to effectively work magic, but simply to get through the day feeling well. Stress can lead to migraines, exhaustion, illness and pain, even depression.
So this article is about silence. This may seem like an odd topic for a magician or spirit worker to concern him or herself with, but before one can open to the flow of power, create charms and spells that truly work, before one can learn to hear the voices of their Gods, a point of stillness within must be reached. Esoteric systems the world over, most especially in the East, have held to this for centuries. The majority of meditation systems at some point address this fact. To find one's center, one must find inner stillness. That's pretty hard to do, especially for the first time, when one has no sense of the purity of solitude and silence.
Silence has its own sound, as paradoxical as that may seem. It has pattern, texture, rhythm and to some people, even color. While it is true that in certain forms of magic the voice becomes the conduit for power, that power has to come from someplace else and that other place is one of both silence and stillness. There are dozens of exercises designed to introduce this concept to neophytes. 99% of meditations are designed, at least at first, to help the student turn off the distractions, not only of the outside world, but also of his or her own "chattering monkey of the mind." For some, achieving this goal can be a terribly difficult endeavor.
After over ten years of teaching esoteric arts, I've come to realize that most people avoid complete silence. I don't just mean silence without, but silence within too. Of all the skills that I have attempted to teach students over the years, an appreciation of silence is the one that generally proves the most difficult to instill. Silence is a powerful teacher. The embrace of silence forces a person to confront all those inner thoughts, emotions, sensations, all the inner demons that we are customarily taught to hide, even from ourselves. There's nothing to use for distraction, nothing to use as a façade when confronted solely with silence.
In the beginning, silence can be a very difficult discipline. It's not only the fact that one's inner demons will emerge, but we must then fight the initial compulsion to do something about them, which in turn distracts from the lesson of silence. We're not used to simply sitting and being with our own inner selves. It's like sitting on a beach watching a huge wave approach: the instinct is to run away. The power of silence is like that of a well-honed knife. It cuts away illusion and brings clarity. This can be a frightening thing. Also, the flip side of the discipline of silence is the discipline of speaking rightly, wisely and well. It is very easy in this culture to squander our words.
I believe that if we learn how to better utilize the power of our voice, it might become easier to then utilize the power of silence. We're often so busy that we waste the power of our voice. We aren't mindful of the words we speak. It doesn't give us enough time to hear the wisdom of silence. There is a Hausa proverb: "Even silence speaks." It is only when we ourselves stop our incessant love affair with noise and endless chatter that we are able to hear its lessons. Learning to withstand and even embrace quietude leads to a greater awareness and appreciation of the power of our words: to weave, to harm, to heal, to manifest. This is a very powerful truism in magic. We're all taught, from very early on, that to name something is to bring it into being. That axiom doesn't only hold true in spell-casting, though. It holds true in every conversation we have, every word we speak whether or good or for ill, whether carelessly or in the full flower of mindfulness.
This is perhaps the reason that mystics the world over in many different religious traditions, have sought out extended periods of both silence and solitude to deepen their spirituality and their connection to the Gods. Perhaps they instinctively grasped that silence is an active discipline. One doesn't just sit like a vegetable when engaging in this discipline. It is a process of readying oneself for opening – to the Gods, to the flow of power, to greater knowledge of oneself.
So how to begin? Well, I'll start with a caveat. Two possibilities may occur when one is first learning to work with silence: either internal (or external) distractions come up almost immediately or the person falls asleep. A period of such resistance is perfectly natural and the student shouldn't feel too badly about it. Sometimes the latter response simply indicates that the person is carrying so much tension that when he or she begins to relax, the body's natural exhaustion (because carrying tension is work!) takes over and demands rest.
I think the best place to begin is to start listening to all the sounds that permeate your day. We are bombarded on a daily basis to an amazing degree by random noise. To approach silence and to understand this discipline, it is first necessary to understand what it is not. So begin by learning to listen. On your ride to work, consciously note each and every sound. Note their quality, the timbre, how they interact in the overall fabric of sound that is being produced. Note your physiological response to them and your emotional response if any.
Take a few moments during your day to simply sit and listen to everything that is going on around you. See how many individual sounds you can pick out of the aural jumble. When you listen to music, try to follow one instrument throughout. As simple as his may seem, by doing this regularly, you're developing your awareness of silence and you are attuning your senses to its flow.
Take this a step further, when you have a quiet moment. When you're going about your day and think to steal a few moments of quiet time, really listen to the sounds around you. You might be surprised at how noisy your quietest time really is! For instance, as I write this, I'm sitting in my computer alcove in my kitchen. The tv is off, no music is playing, my neighbors are asleep and to all intents and purposes, the house is quiet. But in reality it's not. If I think about it, I can hear the almost silent hum of my computer, the electronic hum of my refrigerator, my cat gently snoring half a room away, the far away sound of traffic, even the ticking of my kitchen clock. In city life, much of this is inevitable. Once you begin to become aware of your daily tonal palette, try wearing earplugs during those stolen quiet moments. While it may not block out all background noise, the difference can be staggering. People have been using sensory deprivation techniques in meditation to further their spirituality for centuries. It's nothing new. It can, however, be starting the first time its tried in this albeit modified form.
As an aside, if you have the interest, learning to play a musical instrument can increase one's sensitivity to the interplay of sound and silence dramatically as can learning to sing. These things are beneficial to magical practice because not only are entire systems of magic (like Norse galdr) based on sound, but understanding rhythm and flow helps one better sense and understand natural energy flows. Everything is connected in this way. One pattern of flow mirrors another.
Best of all, begin to moderate your speech. Speaking simply to fill up natural silences, to break uncomfortable silences, or to hear oneself speak is a deeply ingrained habit in many people. It is one that it behooves the mystic, spiritworker, magician or priest to break. Words have immense power. Begin to seriously consider the meaning and import behind the words you speak. How often do you lose your temper and speak vitriolic words out of a lack of control? Or how often do you respond to platitudes of affection with similar comments of your own out of a feeling of social obligation? How often do you tell tales or spread gossip without ever thinking about potential consequences. Do you talk just to avoid the silence?
The place where magic beings and gathers lies in silence. It takes a balanced understanding of both the discipline of silence and the discipline of speech to truly tap into it. Not to mention that it's nearly impossible to hear the Gods and deepen that relationship when in the turmoil of constant sound. So an excellent way to approach this new discipline is to work on becoming aware of the words you speak. Try going through an entire day at work speaking only when necessary. Or better yet, try going through an entire day speaking only the truth. Or try the same thing but never speak either the truth or a lie -- there is an interesting verbal game to play. Observe how much verbal noise you create for your co-workers or family members and think about why. Really explore and examine how you yourself utilize the power of your words.
I've saved the best for last, of course. The silent fast is a powerful meditation and at first it can seem deceptively simple but it's more difficult than it looks. For three days, engage in a silent fast: no tv, cds, radio, computer, books, friends, family, phone, cel phone or any other computerized gadget. For three days go off by yourself (or stay in your home but turn off all communication devices) with just a journal. Spend those days meditating, praying, and writing. Nothing else. Above all else, don't speak. I once did this for ten days, and though days three to five had me going stir crazy, in the end I found it immensely beneficial. Be aware that coming back into the world of noise can be quite jarring after the silent fast is finished. If you are able to arrange to do this for a longer period of time, that is even better. 10-14 days is ideal. Be sure to record your responses, thoughts, feelings and any other inspirations that come to you throughout this time.
Not only is this beneficial to the budding magician, but it is especially beneficial to the spiritual devotee. Spending two weeks in prayer, meditation and interaction with the Gods can be an amazingly opening experience. You may even want to try silent rituals, a ritual utilizing only gesture but no sound as part of the experience.
Of all the tools and techniques of magical practice, this is one of the most neglected in the modern community. Yet conversely it is one of the most beneficial and even necessary. The discipline of silence, like that of breath or galdr take nothing but what we carry with us: our awareness, our breath, our voice, our minds and our wills. It is magical practice at its most basic and its most enduring.
---Shri Sathya Sai Baba