The Silence at the Heart of Being

All the great mystical traditions speak of a miraculous silence, or emptiness, that lies at the heart of being, at the heart of the kaleidoscope of life. These traditions refer to this silence not as an absence but rather as a fullness that is beyond description, beyond the reach of human thought, a fullness that, miraculously, is the very substance of our universe.

Modern science, too, seems to evoke this idea when it speaks of an almost infinite number of spinning galaxies in silent, expanding space or the dazzling dance of particles and waves that emerge out of the space/time continuum-where matter dissolves into energy, and energy into shifting configurations of something unknown.

Though it is impossible to describe this resounding silence, this over-flowing emptiness, the great traditions tell us that it is possible to experience it, here and now, as our own fundamental being, as our “Self,” as “I Am.” They also tell us that this experience, which is more aptly defined as a “non-experience,” is somehow both the beginning and the end of our possible spiritual evolution. They tell us that by returning to this primordial “source,” this psycho-spiritual “absolute,” we can be transformed and realize our highest potentials in the very midst of our everyday lives and of the life force that propels it.

To be sure, this return, though it requires an on-going, earnest search, takes place instantaneously. Every moment that we are awake and aware gives us a new opportunity to “listen” for this inner silence that somehow defines what we are in our very essence. To begin to live consciously thus means to turn toward our own inwardness, where the world of silence, of being, can come alive and can give substance and meaning to our words, actions, and perceptions.

The attempt to turn toward this silence is both a psychological and a metaphysical act. Psychological because it demands that we begin to free ourselves from our constant identification with the thoughts, feelings, sensations, goals, perceptions, and so on that somehow define our sense of ourselves; and metaphysical because it takes us into unchartered, perhaps even transcendent, territory, where we can experience an entirely new perspective, an expanded, more global sense of ourselves.

The effort to hear and attune ourselves to this inner silence can work magic in our lives: for this silence can not only heal us and give our lives meaning, but, perhaps even more importantly, it can bring us to the direct perception of who we really are. The tension, the polarity, created by our search for this silence and our need for outward manifestation can open up a new vision of ourselves, and with it an entirely new arena for self-study: our own apparent duality.

On the one side is the “call” of our inner being, fed by the depths of silence that somehow represent our innermost possibilities; on the other side is our constant urge toward manifestation, in which our thoughts, feelings, and sensations work to propel us outward toward the world around us. It is this seeming separation between the inner and the outer that gives us a new understanding of what it means to be whole, autonomous beings. For the inward call toward being and the outward urge toward manifestation complement and complete each other. The movement inward unchecked by the demand for outward manifestation turns into imagination and dreaming. And outward manifestation without an inner search is empty and simply creates confusion in both ourselves and the world. It is the silence encompassing both of these directions that can bring these two movements into harmony and put us into touch with a new, global awareness that embraces everything in our lives. From the perspective of this awareness, there is no duality; there is only the direct, non-dual perception of wholeness.

What can help bring us to this silence? It all begins with self-inquiry, self-interrogation. It is only when we are deeply in question that we become momentarily free from our conditioning and self-image and are open to the presence of silence–and truth–in ourselves. Self-inquiry may begin with a mental question such as “Who am I?”, but to have any real action on us the question mark must also reach into our heart and body. When it does, when we really need to understand, our questioning evokes a profound sense of spaciousness, an opening into silence itself.

There are many opportunities in the course of our daily lives to return to this silence, for the silence is always there at the heart of things. Through direct observation it is possible to see that everything that takes place in our lives is simply a superimposition over this silence. It is important, however, that we realize this silence is not itself an object, a thing, but is rather the very foundation of our being, the ultimate perceiver of all things. When listening occurs, it is silence that listens.

There are certain times and conditions when it is more possible to be attuned to this silence. Early in the morning just after waking up or at night just before falling asleep are both times when the silence can be experienced. Our conditioning has either not yet been put into motion or is in the process of relinquishing control of our organism, and our attention, if we allow it, can actually unfold into the silence.

Another situation in which it is possible to experience this silence is between two thoughts or activities, when the mind or the body is less active. To become open to the silence, however, requires that we consciously allow this gap to remain, not trying to fill it with some meaning or action as we habitually do. We can also return to this silence between two breaths, especially between the out-breath and the in-breath. When we practice this often we suddenly discover that the silence has always been there, just waiting for our return.

Finally, it is important to remember that this silence is not simply a psychological or physiological phenomenon, but is rather the essence, the background, of our being. The great spiritual traditions have spoken of this silence in their own way as God, Brahma, the Ultimate Perceiver, Nirvana, Wu Chi, the Absolute, and so on. What is important is not how it is spoken of, of course, but rather the recognition that the world of silence, which lies at the heart of our life force, gives birth to everything that we know and are. To lose touch with this world is to divorce ourselves from our own essential being–and to divorce the world itself from its own source. For it is silence that creates, and it is silence that perceives its creation.

Copyright 2007-2015 by Dennis Lewis

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