I was pleased to see a ‘quiet room’ in an airport and went in to find a man talking on the phone. We looked at each other (in silence) until he said ‘are you expecting quiet here?’ Being a very sensitive individual he must have read my mind because without further ado he kindly left to continue his conversation outside. I was there for an hour alone and no one else came in. As on meditation retreats sometimes, we easily forget that silence means silence not merely privacy, just having our own space. In fact silence is one of the most public and simultaneously intimate rooms we can enter. The inner room where we are in deepest solitude yet are immersed in the ground of all being.
Silence has many layers. John the Solitary spoke of four, the tongue, the whole body, the mind and the spirit which is the silence of silence. This he describes as being able to remain still and silent moved only by silence itself, not by any thought, even the most subtle thought about silence.
Sometimes when we meditate we are led into a space that seems thought-free and refreshingly calm – like a quiet room in a noisy airport. But there may be a couple of people in there having a conversation about what quiet really means or even saying what a good idea it is to have such a space. So, although we may have come to one of the deeper levels of silence of mind, evidently (when you see it, it is evident) not full silence yet.
The mantra is a faithful path leading into the fullest silence. It will take us all the way. But as it gets closer to the end the path becomes simpler and narrower, not less but more friendly and familiar. It becomes increasingly subtle. Eventually the mantra, the sayer of the mantra and the mysterious presence in which we say it become one and that is the silence of silence.
This might sound like some kind of grading system and we most of us feel we occupy one of the lowest levels. That is a fabrication of the ego, however. The ego that always likes to be special and first. This false idea of spiritual development dissolves through exposure to faith over time. What emerges instead is an awareness – a humble sense – that we live and move and act and talk in the full silence of the spirit. We may not know it as fully as we can because the other levels of silence have not yet evolved sufficiently.
But we know nonetheless that the silence of the all-sustaining Presence is real and constant. That in turn gives us motivation to go back and work on the other levels of silence day by day.