I used to struggle to be comfortable in silence, or even the pauses between cycles in my life. I first became aware of this while taking my second teacher training with Todd Norian in 2009-2010. The training took place in this beautiful rustic barn in the fairytale-like Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts. We had to wake up early for our morning 6 a.m. sadhana (spiritual practice), which included breathwork and meditation. In hindsight, it wasn’t that early. I was uncomfortable waking up in the early morning’s stillness (and darkness), and the kumbhaka (breath retention) made me want to sleep in and skip it all.
Silence Punctured by Gunshots
As a young teenager, I regularly attended a Reborn Christian church with my mom (when I lived in South Africa). I would wake up at 5 a.m. and read spiritual books by evangelical Christians like Billy Graham. This was followed by morning prayers, exercise, and then school (which started at 8 a.m.). My mornings were sacred.
Until one morning, in the stillness, I heard a woman begging for someone to help her, screaming for her life. I ran to the apartment window, adrenaline coursing through me, heart racing, panicking to help. Gunshots went off, and then silence. Hearing gunshots was not uncommon where we lived in South Africa. But these gunshots were close. I stood there frozen by the window – listening into the silence of the morning, but this time, the silence was violated by a sinister emptiness of a soul being taken by a ‘monster’. My mom dragged me away from the window. I was numb going to school that day. I looked at strangers on the road, wondering who killed that woman and why. The thought of her last moments being of terror haunted me. We moved soon after that incident.
I never woke up early after that day unless I had to for something. Until this training with Todd.
In yoga, waking up early when the world is still asleep is an auspicious time to feel the connection with the Universe more intimately. It’s a time of stillness, silence, magic, and sacredness. The mind is untainted by the bustling of the day.
For me, it had become a place where nightmares happened.
The Pause between breaths
On top of waking up early for our morning sadhana of breathwork and meditation for this training, we had to increase the breath retention time (I can’t recall the exact time – I think we had to build it up to 4 minutes – something that seemed insurmountable). I also can’t remember if we had to hold it at the top of the inhale, exhale, or both.
My mind was screaming that I could not do this. The mind kept saying I would die if I didn’t allow the breath to flow (death was an unwanted visitor – something that was healed later with Ayahuasca – a journal entry for another time).
On the second last day of training, I realized I could use the mind to calm the mind down. I told my mind: “It is ok. The breath will flow again. What would it be like if you surrendered into the pause?” My mind began to feel suspended in the hammock of the pause – no time, nothing to do or be. On the last day, I could hold the retention with ease, for the extended length of time. Not because I had to, but from curiosity and surrender.
This lesson has helped me many times in different situations.
Everything is Impermanent
Can we recognize and be in the pause at the end of something until the new cycle emerges in our life? When a relationship ends, can we be single and be in the stillness of our own being before a new relationship comes in? Or even witness the grasping of the old relationship that didn’t work, because we don’t want to be in the stillness? While listening to a piece of music, savour the notes suspended in the air and then witness them dissolve into silence. The same is true with a job or moving onto a new project – do you grasp for something new to feel enough or significant? Or do you stay in the same place, afraid of the unknown? The most profound stillness that is sometimes forced on us is the loss of a loved one. That silence is thick (layered with powerful emotions of deep gratitude, love, loss, unwritten moments, and emptiness).
OM and Silence
When we chant AUM (Om), the silence at the end is incredibly important. The silence is representative of Turiya (the all-pure consciousness, pervading and transcending the 3 states of consciousness – A (waking state), U (dreaming state), and M (dreamless deep sleep).
Being comfortable in Silence and with the Pause is a beautiful place to be. Observe how the mind wants to run away from it, think about the past, or grasp for what is next and what will “fill you up” to give you the next high, excitement, feeling worthwhile, etc.
When we are uncomfortable with the void, we will do anything to avoid it. Perhaps we are afraid of what emotions will come with it. Afraid that we will drown in the emotions and may be unable to come up for air. Fearful of being alone, not being enough. What are we afraid of?
The Pause and Silence IS ENOUGH!
Restorative Yoga and Yoga Nidra brings ease, compassion, safety, devotion to self, and comfort – essential ingredients to welcome silence and stillness. The more we can enjoy rest and stillness, the more it permeates our lives.
I now embrace the rich silence of my early mornings on my yoga mat, in front of my altar. My morning ritual with silence and myself.
Explore adding more silence or pauses to your life – between breaths, before starting the car, before reaching for the phone. The more you allow this visitor into your life, the more you recognize it as an intimate friend. You begin to glimpse into the all-pervading consciousness.