Silence is a self-rewarding activity. Not only does it calm the mind, but it also creates a framework for concentration and contemplation. It is a recreative activity that heals the very inmost of a person.
Quite naturally silence comes hand in hand with solitude – time alone is necessary to achieve quietness.
Personally, I like to include walking, silence, solitude, meditation, and other related practices in the category of recreation. If you compare recreation with entertainment, you will promptly notice that the latter exhausts. All the industry of fun has no other intent (though mostly unconscious) than to distract you from profound things and contemplation. Only simple recreative things can lift you up to self-presence.
The means to silence: walking. The primary way for silence is walking. Below you can find why, and later at the end of the article, you’ll read about other ways.
To be alone inside of a house is all right, but usually is not enough due to the familiarity of the environment and its distractive aspect. The best place to catch silence is a natural landscape (a grove, forest, glade, lake, etc.) if not completely empty then without too many people.
Discipline is the staple of the practice. You need to sleep and get up roughly at the same time. The morning silence should never be skipped, while the evening one can vary. The time you’ve chosen to walk is not for negotiation because it is, probably, the only time free from obligations and without communication with others. Being disciplined is almost like being a professional – one who gets there no matter what rips all the benefits regularly. Only practice makes one perfect. Silence seems like a small thing, but it brings a massive change in one’s life.
Duration. Typically 30 – 90 minutes is enough. On a bad day, even 10 minutes make sense; on a good, you can spend as much time as feels right. Additional activity after months of walking can be reading, writing, creating, etc. You’ll be surprised how much yearn for creativity you have after a period of silence.
Weather. Any is good. Rainy and cold days will be the quietest. Warm or hot days are delightful and, at the same time, analogous to life with its continuous agitation.
Sounds. The sound of a voice is but another sound. Take it as ambience. Sounds under feet are amazing and conducive to concentration.
People and their judgement. Do not pay attention to what others think – they have their agendas and mindsets. Their opinion has nothing to do with your situation. To conform to someone’s expectations is to lose sight of yourself. You may wonder if people think you are weird being alone in a desolate place or slowly walking there, but let those thoughts go because you’re doing a favour to everyone – a calm mind is a mind that cools down the tension in society.
Now we proceed to the ten days. There you will find all the theoretical background and practical advice.
The 10 days
The technique consists of adding a new thing every day while saving the previous. You are going to build a habit brick by brick. Gradually you’ll become comfortable at walking, transform hearing and seeing into listening and looking, reduce the chatter in your head, learn to contemplate and transcend the commonsensical reality.
If you have never done anything like that before, the practice may become an epiphany – you will realise that you haven’t indeed been present to yourself before; that you were affected by external things. Being silent and alone is one of the first steps on a path of independence and tranquillity.
When you go beyond the ten days, some things will be essential to repeat every time, and some can vary. Essential practices will be underlined.
A day before. Sleeping schedule. It is crucial to begin and end the same way every day. Following are the recommendations to have a good sleep:
Eat no less than 3 hours before sleep.
Do not get involved in any visual distractions like movies, shows, video games, and alike at least 2 hours before going to bed. The same goes for social interaction.
Do not go on the Internet because there is a probability to get distracted. You should give your memory a space to process what you’ve gathered through the day without piling new things up.
Have a bed routine an hour or 30 minutes before sleep that is, tooth brushing, washing the face, and so on. Include a cold shower if it is possible.
Read a book that calms you down. Usually, philosophy is the best choice.
Meditate for 20 minutes before bed.
When you in bed, mentally replay your day and sleep you go.
Sleep the exact amount of hours and wake up at the same time.
Day one: 30 minutes. Walk. The first day should be simple because you’re getting used to a new thing. If it is entirely new for you, then you may want to prolong day one to several days. The primary task is to become familiar with your feelings, recognise the state of your mind – where you will see your worries, fears, dreams, distractions, to mention a few. It all depends on your familiarity with solitude – if you have one, then it will all go smoothly, but if you don’t have, then you will need some time to land the mind to the at of calmness.
Day two: 40 minutes. Look around. Let your eyes relax and enjoy a broad picture. Play with your retina, see how objects change depending on the focus. There are a few amusing exercises you can do:
Find an object close to you and focus on it; then, after a few seconds, move to another object in an average distance, and repeat, now switching to a distant object. Then go back through the middle to the close one. Repeat the procedure as many times as you want.
Draw a visual circle from the farthest right to the farthest left. Rotate your torso (your legs don’t move) slowly to the left, and then to the right paying attention to the circular movement of the vision. You can place your eyes on the close, middle, or far objects. Then stick to that distance and rotate to and fro as long as you like.
Choose a tree, post, or something far away. Concentrate on it, dissolve your thoughts and try not to ruminate at all.
Find a puddle and observe the reflections in it.
On a rainy or snowy day, observe how drops fall and break or snowflakes land and melt (or combine with the rest of snow).
Day three: 50 minutes. Watch your steps. Spent at least 10 minutes during a walk pacing slowly and watching your footsteps. Observe how your legs move, how your feet touch the ground and make things rustle. If you feel restless and can’t concentrate, close your eyes and walk blind (only in a safe place).
Day four: 60 minutes. Listen. Sound can be an object of concentration or centring of the mind. The closest sound is the sound of your steps but look for something else as well. There is no complete silence anywhere. Quiet days are the best to lend an ear to faint sounds. Dissolve your thoughts, always coming back to the one you’ve chosen.
Close your eyes to achieve even better attentiveness.
Day five: 70 minutes. Breath. Connect all the previous days and add a new step –breathing. There are many techniques available. The most straightforward and most profitable is Whim Hoff’s (find it online). You can do the exercise before going out or during a walk. Breathing helps relax the body and concentrate better. It’s critical to make a connection to the body, to become friends with it. Health is indispensable to a calm mind. Although it is not the place to talk about it in depth, we should mention that proper nutrition, sport, and rest are necessary to an ordered and enjoyable life.
Day six: 80 minutes. Become curious at your new home. Now the place you’ve chosen to walk daily is your environment, and you are part of it. There you find peace, there your inner is at home. Don’t hasten anywhere for we often run after some illusive happiness somewhere and sometime else, but it always lies within and begs for presence, that is, your attention. You are the one who creates reality (but not in that sloppy sense of those who contend that you are what you think). You are not free to produce sensual reality, but your attention makes it real in the pond of your senses. Anything that hasn’t been paid attention to has no existence for you whatsoever.
Become a child you used to be (but preserve your thoughtfulness) – roam around, enjoy the process, think of no time limits, pay attention to everything small and seemingly dull (like a falling leave, a sounds and look of a drop of water, rustling under your feet, etc.). Simple things are the most relaxing. You reappear this way – you have the means to observe and make nature into kind or thought. Most of the time though, you are sunk in the social chatter reproducing itself; it pretends to have value but has almost none.
Day seven: 90 minutes. Become completely silent. Resolve not to talk at all. Do not pronounce any words (we often speak to ourselves) neither outwardly nor inwardly. This time you must be present with your contemplative mind, that is, self-consciousness instead of consciousness.
Day eight: 100 minutes. Observe change (micro and macro). Let it all flow and see how transitive it all is. Your self is only for a moment here with its thoughts; its thoughts and feelings appear and disappear every fraction of a second, but one day there will be nothing for them to emerge on – your beautiful and sophisticated consciousness will dissipate away to unite with the One.
Day nine: 110 minutes. Read something spiritually huge before you go for a walk (How about the Enneads by Plotinus or Confessions by Augustine?). Now you should be prepared to think over profound things instead of minutiae.
Day ten: 120 minutes. Replay all the things you have done so far on this day. It is time to be a silence, to become comfortable with solitude.
Let me congratulate you on the completing of 10 days. I hope you have enjoyed the practice and found a new experience. Go on with the activity. Needless to say that you can vary the duration of walking depending on a day. All the techniques can be combined in any order, and new should be looked for. Believe that there is more to be discovered. Don’t lose this everyday habit.
Also, make the practice suit your needs. Making pictures, writing, doing sport and so on are possible additions.
Soon, not only will you learn to contemplate, but become humble, that is, content with the minimum of things. Also, your emotions will be in check more often than before, that is, you will be reacting to stimuli consciously.
Don’t expect to have good or bad walks, a silent or a busy mind – there will be good walkings, mediocre, and bad; only consistency matters.
Now you have the experience to compare entertainment with recreation. Notice how different you feel after watching something or socialising and contemplation and being silent.
Future. After a year of walking and observation, you will enclose the circle of season change. Then you will understand that this process is almost everlasting, but you are not. How many springs are there left for you to see? Carpe diem!
Over time the practice is going to change. You may lose your silence. It is the second step, and the third is to gain it back.
The three stages are:
the positive one – attaining silence for the first time, which results in rapture;
the negative – getting bored and thinking that you are being alright and can skip a few days without consequences. This approach is a mistake because our mindset is so fragile and easily harmed. You will become even more restless than before the first stage.
the sublated, that is, the negative is destroyed and preserved at the same time. Now you know how you work and how to make the most out of yourself; you don’t expect anything from silence. Instead, you become one.
In simpler words, firstly you believe something, secondly you try it out, and lastly know.
Other ways to achieve silence. I have described walking as the way to silence because it is the best one I know of. However, meditation comes very close. Another apophatic practice – reducing information, which is not precisely an information diet but a conscious choice based on your life purpose, values, and awareness of the limitations. And the last, but not the least, is reading philosophy. Contrary to the notorious believe that thought (what is actually meant by most people is picture-thinking or representation) is overcome by its dissolution on the path to intuition, philosophy contends that picture-thinking and understanding are sublated by reason; and it means that all the previous steps are necessary and not to be despised or avoided. A German classical philosopher Hegel insisted that understanding without reason is something, while reason without understanding is nothing. Thus, you may gather what the purpose of self-presence is: with the help of purifying practices lead a person to contemplation, which is the highest practice itself.