Silence Speaks – by Dr Helena Daly
By Dr Helena Daly
If you were to ask me where I feel most at home, I would say, without hesitation, in silence. I do not know what I would do or how I would be without it. I need silence and solitude as surely as I need to breathe. It nurtures my soul and revitalizes my spirit. Without being able to retreat into the sanctity silence offers, I lose my way in this crazy world and start to inwardly suffer, as surely as someone who is deprived of food, water, air, shelter and warmth suffers.
For as long as I can remember, I have always sought out silence and solitude. That old saying that silence is both golden and deafening is true. When entered into, silence speaks, if we are just willing to slow down and be still long enough to listen. There is a coming-to-know that rises up from within the depths of our own bodies and the greater collective body that is Mother Nature.
I first discovered the beauty and healing power of silence during my general nurse training in London, when working in a hospice and palliative care unit. I was about nineteen years old then. I would become so struck by a powerful stillness, and what felt to me to be ‘sacred silence’, that would open up during the dying process and when death arrived. Simultaneously, I would become aware of something happening inside of me—an inner expansiveness and feeling of great peace and pure love. These were profound spiritual experiences that opened me up from the inside-out, in a way that defies explanation and description. Their deep impact ignited a spiritual thirst and quest for knowledge that ensured what was to become my meandering path in life.
Several years later, when feeling dissatisfied with my psychology degree which I undertook while nursing, I was bought into a deeper relationship with silence. During my first year in college, I had volunteered to help out in a homeless shelter and happened to befriend some monks during that time who held services there. These monks had recently moved into a townhouse in the center of Hove, where I lived for a few years while attending Sussex University. It became the town monastery, providing a sanctuary within the chaos of life for so many people.
It was a warm, welcoming, loving place for anyone who wished to call in, to simply sit and talk, or to join in with the community during times of prayer, silence or meditation. As soon as I discovered though that their main monastery lay outside of town in the heart of the Sussex countryside, I was off on what was to prove to be the first of many silent retreats. With each retreat I would extend my time in silence, entering its sacred depth more and more with each passing day. Frequently, I would watch as other guests arrived, feeling called as I did. They would come and they would go, with many leaving earlier than planned, finding themselves unable to handle the silence.
Why? Because silence is deafening. There is nowhere to hide in silence! I learnt through my own experience, that a monastery—especially a monastery, is the last place someone can hide in! In stillness and silence, we are faced with ourselves, with all of what we are—light and shadow. There is a “rising to consciousness”, wherein everything comes to the surface. Any little demons lurking within and beneath the waking threshold of conscious life come out to play.
This is perhaps why people avoid it, and yes, it can be a frightening place to hang out in initially. But when regularly inviting quiet time into our lives and allowing things to unfold, the potential for enhanced awareness and spiritual growth and development is enormous. Shadowy elements that emerge can be worked with, through conscious reflection, examination and integration, and as a result, our conscious personalities expand and shine more brightly. This honest, reflective practice is an important part of any spiritual practice, for it is precisely as Carl Jung said, we “do not become enlightened by imagining beings of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
Cultures, East and West, have long recognized the cultivation of inner silence as the cornerstone of spiritual development and awareness. All of the world’s great indigenous, religious, spiritual, esoteric and yogic traditions and practices teach about the powerful, timeless quality of silence in healing. Yet, it is only relatively recently that the role silence plays in successful healing has become more widely recognized. Medical and psychological researchers, for example, are now paying greater attention to states of internal silence and their value in the healing process.
In the world at large, however, given the stress, strains and demands of living, people have forgotten how to be quiet and how to tap into unsuspected inner resources. Given that we now live in a hyper-technological, digitalized world, one that has accelerated beyond belief since the age of COVID—bringing with it an explosion into virtual reality—practicing silence is like a foreign concept. While navigating these new ways of living in our changed world, being silent and setting aside quiet time has become increasingly difficult and out of reach for so many. Yet, we need it more now than ever, and we need to come to know the many fruits that silence offers.
One everyday example, wherein the benefits of entering silence can be experienced, is stress. When stressed, all interconnecting systems in the body are affected. Noted bodily changes include muscular tension, increased heart rate, breathing changes (faster and swallower), becoming sweaty, rising anxiety, panic, digestive and bowel difficulties, as well as nausea. Over extended periods of time, fatigue, irritation and depression can set in. Even when short silent meditations and breathing practices are employed, these bodily changes and fluctuating emotional imbalances settle down and a sort of homeostasis, if you like, kicks in.
The healing power of silence can also be witnessed during times of grief and heartache. A broken heart is an open heart, and when the deep sadness that lives there can find expression through tears, the soul softens—a tenderizing process which greatly serves healing. If, on the other hand, the expression of inner pain is resisted, and loss and grief denied, the opposite holds true—a closed heart. Inner shutters come down, which over time lead to blockages and frozen states of being.
An image that comes to mind to help capture unresolved grief is that of ice—great big lumps of frozen black ice. When emotions like anger, hurt and sorrow become stuck, the inner world slowly freezes over, and in time it constellates into depression and rage. However, when tended to, these contracted states begin to thaw out, allowing for emotional release and healing so that grief can flow freely like a river. And like a flowing river, grieving is an unpredictable journey that can suddenly change emotional direction and take many twists and rocky turns, but it is a transformative journey in its revelation, and frees the spirit, creating life anew.
These are but two examples of how silently tending to inner life helps heal and maintain psychological and emotional balance, and while doing so, deeper understanding naturally emerges. When consistently connecting with inner light and shadow, new insight and greater clarity on personal difficulties and life’s concerns are revealed, offering solutions. In addition, misty paths that frequent our lives regularly become clearer, and over time, we become happier, more joyful and discover who we truly are. For deep within eternal depths, the higher self speaks, and one of the most profound avenues though which inner knowing is transmitted, comes through the vast silent, spatial dimensions that open in sleep and dream.
Ancient seers, visionaries and practitioners knew this, for in the ancient world, sleep was received as an oracle—an infallible silent counselor (Synesius of Cyrene as cited in Fromm, 1951/1957, p. 132), and dreams were used as a method for exploring the great mysteries. Dream healing practices incubated knowledge out of sleep through ritualistic techniques rooted in darkness. For deep within the silent, subtle world of sleep, the soul was believed to speak directly, and dreams of divinity, guidance and healing were received (Meier, 1989).
Divine elements of healing were believed to come from another level of being (Kingsley, 1999), a belief upheld within theurgic medicine. In ancient Greece, for example, patients’ dreams were closely observed for diagnostic and prognostic information under the belief that dreams sent forth curative directives and that the soul could portray, through its images and visions, bodily conditions and illness (Meier, 1989, pp. 116–117).
Unlike today, dreams were highly valued, and it is only when dreams are valued that they can exert any kind of power and influence. Working with dreams involves serious preparation, genuine intent and a deep desire to want to work with these luminosities of the night. In the ancient world, when seeking spiritual guidance and healing, the subtle world of sleep was not entered into without careful preparation of mind, body and spirit. This involved fasting, purifying and cleansing rituals, setting clear intentions, prayer, meditation, and long suspended periods of time in darkness (Kingsley, 1999). The black, death-like stillness of the night was welcomed, and its womb-like dwelling eagerly dropped into, in the hope of making contact with divine sources.
The cultivation of a relationship with solitude and darkness is therefore essential, and of equal importance is the development of personal characteristics to help strengthen this practice and open up inner states of silence. These include self-discipline, patience and perseverance, the ability to relax and maintain an internal focus, passive concentration, reflexive attitude, and open receptivity. These all come into play upon awakening when dwelling between the realms, wherein a highly interactive creative process opens through horizontal (bodily) and vertical channels (dream-waking states of being).
Lying as still as possible on coming out of sleep, while staying receptive and alert, helps magnify subliminal energies that lie at the dream-waking threshold—an intense activity that preserves psychic energy while keeping at bay conscious mental activity lying in wait. From within this reflexive posture, internal space can be explored and the subtle dream body accessed—an important carrier of data, so any sudden movement on awakening greatly disrupts this and affects dream recall.
Without the cultivation of personal attributes then, deep inner psychical states of quiet through which “the human soul begins to be united with its “ground of Pure Being” (Eckhart as cited in Underhill, 1990, p. 31) cannot be known. it is only through states of deep quiet that subtle yet powerful ways of knowing come through. These are transmitted through multiple perceptual modes of awareness that open in sleep and allow for intuitive energetics to be received.
Depth psychology understands these types of experiences and embodied knowing as being rooted in the “body-soul” (von Franz 1998, p. 119)—inner spatial depth through which emotional undercurrents are carried. From within these energetically resonating experiences, implicit meaning and significance is known, and the “more answering emotion evoked through this channel, the more truth it will convey” (Underhill, 1990, p. 126).
These are the types of inner experiences that make up the highly valued, lived experience of dreaming encounters—other ways of knowing that come through the visionary world of the dreamer. They reflect a type of inner empirical knowledge that is far removed from the measuring and testing of external perception, experiences that are “in no way subordinate to a strictly empirical waking world” (Irwin, 1994, p. 64).
Yet, in the name of “objective” science, the inner world and deep, revelatory experiential states of consciousness are ignored. What, may I ask, is objective about that? Modern science could learn a lot from the ancient visionaries, wisdom traditions of the past, dreamers and inner space travelers. If only they were willing to wear special glasses capable of looking inward as well as outward and enter the world of silence that opens through sleeping, dreaming and waking realms. If they could do this, silence would speak and reveal inner truths that only the heart and deep abiding spirit that dwells there knows. For the wonders of the mind and the powers of the intellect think, think, think—while the heart just knows. When resting in silence, there is no getting away from that.
Fromm, E. (1957). The forgotten language: An introduction to the understanding of dreams, fairytales and myths. New York City, NY: Grove Press, Inc. (Original work published 1951).
Irwin, L. (1994). The dream seekers: Native American visionary tradition of the great plains. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.
Kingsley, P. (1999). In the dark places of wisdom. London, UK: Golden Sufi Center.
Meier, C. A. (1989). Healing, dream, and ritual. Einsiedeln, Switzerland: Daimon Verlag Publishing.
Underhill, E. (1990). Mysticism: The preeminent study in the nature and development of spiritual consciousness. New York City, NY: Doubleday Dell Publishing.
von Franz, M.L. (1998). On dreams and death: A Jungian interpretation. (E.X. Kennedy V. Brooks, Trans.). Boston, MA: Shambala Publications.
If you would love to learn more about Dr Helena Daly, then make sure to check our her page. Additionally, make sure to read her previous articles on dreams, my very own guru; dreams, death and dying; Synchronicity; the benefits of dreamwork, and the art of dream recall.
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