"Let every voice but God's be still in me."
Silence. Inner silence as well as outer silence is something most of us are not used to. When I lived in New Jersey, one of the things I used to notice when I visited a rural area was the silence, particularly in the morning around dawn. I was not aware of how continual the noise was where I lived until it was absent. Trucks passing on a nearby highway; dogs barking; televisions playing; boom boxes; sirens. Even the constant hum of air conditioning or refrigerators. I was used to having a TV or radio or stereo playing most of the time.
Even more difficult to tune out is the constant inner chatter of the mind.
The Course is constantly engaging us in the practice of silence. "In deepest silence would I come to You" (1:2). Mental silence is an acquired habit; it takes a great deal of practice, at least in my experience. Even when I meditate my inclination is to use some words; perhaps to repeat a thought from a lesson; or to invent some kind of mental instruction for myself, such as, "Breathing in love, breathing out forgiveness." My mind wants to engage in a running commentary on my "silent" meditation. Lately, however, I have found myself beginning with a simple instruction to myself, such as, "Now let me be silent," or, "Peace to my mind. Let all my thoughts be still." And then just sitting for fifteen minutes or so, attempting to be completely still and silent.
In silence, the lesson says, we can hear God's Voice and receive His Word. If I seldom seem to receive anything concrete, the odds are that it is because my attempts at silence are not yet terribly successful. But I am practicing.
The lesson contains some specific instructions that seem to me to apply to the question, "What do I do with the thoughts that arise while I am meditating?" The instructions are quite simple: "step back and look at them, and then...let them go" (2:2). In mentally "stepping back" from our thoughts, I am holding my awareness still in the silence. I am watching the thoughts rather than engaging with them. This practice of disengaging ourselves from our egos is a key practice. The thoughts arise. Rather than identifying with them and playing with them, I step back. Rather than fighting against them and resisting them, I simply step back. I recognize that I "do not want what they would bring with them" (2:3). "And so [I] do not choose to keep them" (2:4).
"And they are silent now" (2:5). When you simply disengage from the thoughts, not condemning them or approving them, simply noting them as of no consequence, as something unwanted at the moment, they really do begin to fall silent. I discover that I am really in charge of my own mind (who else would be?). As the thoughts fall away, "...in the stillness, hallowed by His Love, God speaks to us and tells us of our will, as we have chosen to remember Him" (2:5).
One final note. As we begin to learn this practice of silence, it starts to spill over into our lives during the day. We discover that we are able, in the throes of some disturbing situation, to "step back" from the reactive thoughts of our minds, note the reactions, and simply choose, with His help, to let them go. The place of silence we have found in our special times of quiet comes with us into our day. "This quiet center, in which you do nothing, will remain with you, giving you rest in the midst of every busy doing on which you are sent" (T-18.VII.8:3).
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