“The silence is your canvas, that’s your frame, that’s what you work on; don’t try and deafen it out.” – Keith Richards
When I was reading Keith Richards’ biography, Life, the sentence above really stood out for me. For one thing, it was really ironic that someone whose living consisted on making sound would say something like that, and on the other hand, it sounded very “yogic.” Outside of yoga studios, I suppose the understanding of yoga takes on two meanings, either the physical practice which we call asana, or the meditation practice. Logically, you would think that there is no way that the asana practice could lead to silence.
Originally, I thought the same. I mean, how could it be any different? You have this instructor speaking to you through the class, and then you’re moving, and then there’s that infernal dialogue between your brain and your body and your body and your brain and everything that’s trying to happen at the same time and then you put one foot forward, and then the other, and then you’re on in a push up, then a back bend, and that bloody downward dog. How could there possibly be so much going on at the same time when you’re just balancing on your palms and the balls of your feet? And who has time for silence anyway?
Well, we all should.
I personally had forgotten the importance of silence until last weekend. How? Well, I was hit by the most insane headache, the kind where you just want to throw up to relieve some of the pressure in your head. It was like a pressure cooker in there, and the only relief I had (being someone who doesn’t take painkillers) was to shut the lights and sit in absolute darkness.
You know what I had done to myself to get into that situation?
Easy answer – overstimulation.
I had forgotten to honour silence. In trying to do all the stuff I felt I had to do, my senses were constantly being stimulated. Of course for others it might be a legitimate illness, but sometimes, the solution need not be complicated. In my case, I was pushing it. At any point in time, I was reading or watching television, or both, or reading and listening to music. Add to that the stuff that just goes on during the day. Even walking up the street, our eyes, ears, sense of smell, sense of touch, sense of taste even sometimes, all of them are going. And the thing is, whatever we perceive through our senses, the brain automatically process. Although I meditate about 20 minutes a day, how could that be enough to offset the other stuff. Through my lifestyle, I was making my brain process a lot more than was necessary at a given time.
What did that do to my nerves? Well, it fried them.
Then on Sunday, the 18th of November, I attended a talk on the effects of bass music and the effects of yoga. Do you remember those nights? You’re there just riding this beat and you’re dancing like the world meant nothing, and then there’s the silence and your whole body is vibrating in this space of silence. Inside there is no worry, there is only bliss, in that silence. Of course, for some (myself included), there were drugs involved, but they weren’t really necessary. That was a quick step to ecstasy when we are wired to produce these chemicals on our own anyway. The thing with chemically induced highs is like anything else in extremes, an extreme high will be followed by extremes in the opposite direction.
I am often very guilty of trying to deafen silence out. Most of the time, it’s either because there’s something I don’t want to hear in that silence, or because I have gotten myself into a cycle of ‘busyness’. But what teachers are trying to teach us in yoga classes is that there is silence and stillness in movement. When the yoga instructor is coaxing you into these places where your body is trembling and your mind in screaming, the invitation is to find silence there. When the music is shaking us up like crazy, can we ride it to that place inside which is just silent and still?
There is always silence. Sometimes though, it takes a bit of work to get there. Sometimes, we just need to face the ego, the blame, the conscience, the have tos and the musts, and everything in between and just sit. It is there, in the spaces between our thoughts.