Finding Silence in a Busy Mind

February 12, 2010

Lyn emailed me about a statement on our Difficulty Meditating website page that she found confusing. This blog post is an attempt to explain it, but I’m not sure that I can anymore than I can explain the taste of an apple to someone who has never tasted one. Here’s the statement she found confusing:

“Although meditation can be a way to experience inner silence, this comes about not by eliminating thoughts, but by becoming aware of the silence that is naturally present in the mind along with the thoughts.”

The statement refers to the experience of silence in a meditative state, and a meditative state is very difficult to describe in words. It’s about the space between words, the space between thoughts. It’s about becoming unhooked from thoughts and concepts so that the background of consciousness in which everything is experienced becomes apparent.

Trying to describe this experience is like trying to describe space. It’s easy to describe the objects in space – a tree, an apple, a human being – but how do you describe space itself to someone?  Everything exists in space – it’s that no-thing in which every “thing” is! How you put words to that?

Our awareness could be thought of as the space in which all of our experiences take place. It is an “aware space”. It is there all of the time, but we don’t put our attention on it. Our attention is focused on the experiences, rather than the awareness underlying the experiences. Meditation can bring about an awareness of awareness. And the nature of that awareness could be described as silence. As we disengage from the meaning of thoughts and they are allowed to flow through, the experience is one of silence along with thoughts. The gap between thoughts, the space in which they happen, is being noticed.

Does the statement make sense to you? How would you explain it to someone?


7 Responses to “Finding Silence in a Busy Mind”

  1. Lynne C. on February 13th, 2010 1:34 pm

    This statement does make some sense to me because I’ve made the transition between not experiencing this and experiencing it. I wonder if Lyn could better understand it if instead of calling it the ‘silence’, we described it as ‘stillness’. This is how it feels to me. I seem to go through a fade from thoughts that happen in the brain (a physical element), to thoughts that go on in what I call my “mindspace”. There’s a separation of physical being and mental existence. It happened after I surrendered to the fact that I couldn’t just understand it the way I understand 2+2=4. Initially I would try to quiet my thoughts by just focusing on my breath, as I find I can’t really have thoughts streaming as I think about breathing. So, by breathing deeply and slowly, I didn’t have to think, and for me that separation just happened. I like to keep my hands on my legs (or hips if this is my sleeptime ritual), and I notice I feel as if my hands sink into my legs. I can make the realization of that meld without bringing my thoughts from mindspace back to brain and disrupting the cycle. This took some time, but the key was to just let it be. Whatever happens, happens, and as you say, I just easily brought my attention back to my meditation. Everything falls into place when I stop trying so hard. From one Lynne to another, I hope this can help Lyn get what she’s looking for from her practice.

  2. Jillian on February 14th, 2010 6:31 am

    What a wonderful description of that which can’t be described, but experienced.

    Like Lyn, I have a very “busy” mind. When I first started meditating I chose guided meditation very similar to those offered by “Meditation Oasis.” (the internet wasn’t available yet). While listening to the words I made sure my breaths were slow (about to a count of 4) and even. The more relaxed I could get myself – and keep my mind on my breath – the quieter my mind got – and the silence filled my whole being.

    The one thing I can say from my experience is that you will “know” when you are there – or within – or all – or no thing.

  3. Mary on February 14th, 2010 10:38 am

    Lynne and Jillian, thank you both for sharing your experiences. It always seems that reading others experiences, and how they describe them, enriches ones own understanding.

    I did get an email from Lyn who said the blog post helped. Funny thing is part of the confusion came from a typo on the original quote on the website (now fixed) which changed the meaning of the sentence. Thanks to the typo, we’ve had a chance to reflect on this experience!

  4. Luminous Emptiness on March 2nd, 2010 10:46 am

    This is very nicely explained indeed, and very much related to emptiness and the relationship between how things appear (relative truth) and how things actually are (ultimate truth) in Buddhism. Really, the appearances that seem to arise are inseparable from the nature of things. Practically speaking, stillness ultimately comes from knowing the nature of things, not trying to grasp after one type of experience – that of the ‘still’. One can be still in the midst of all sorts of mental activity – actively aware of it all, and still, by resting in knowing.

    I don’t know if all this ‘alien’ terminology will help or hinder anyone – just wanted to say a ‘thank you’ for your site – and how much of this resonates very deeply with the tradition that I happen to practice within.

    Thank you …..

  5. Mary on March 3rd, 2010 10:20 am

    You’re welcome. Loved reading your description – beautiful, thank you! It does seem we can experience the same “truths” regardless of the path we’ve followed. Different terminology, same cognitions, or recognitions.

  6. Megan on April 17th, 2014 8:56 am

    I liked this description: “Your consciousness is just like the sky and your mind (thoughts) are just like the clouds. The sky remains untouched by the clouds. They come and go; no scar is left behind. The sky remains virgin; no record, no footprints, nothing of the clouds. They come and they go; the sky remains undisturbed. Thoughts come and go, minds evolve and disappear.” Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh

    This worked for me because it drives home the idea of letting clouds (thoughts) come and go, and focusing more on the sky (consciousness). The spaces and gaps between thoughts is the backdrop of our awareness.

    I’m certainly a beginner at meditation, but this analogy really helped me get a better sense of meditation, and how to let those pesty thoughts pass by with ease.

  7. Mary on April 17th, 2014 9:24 am

    Thank you, Megan, for sharing what has been helpful for you!

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