Last year I was asked by a Korean publisher to write what I would say if I were giving my “last lecture.” This was for a Korean-language anthology, in which many authors (most you would recognize) were offering their answer. For me the subject was easy–inner silence. You as an HSP understand my choice intuitively, but I will summarize my essay for you anyway.
What do I mean by inner silence? Obviously it’s not outer silence. It can be noisy outside and yet you can access the quiet inside. Simply closing your eyes removes 80% of the stimulation to your brain. Instant momentary HSP downtime. I also do not mean total silence. Perhaps it would be better to say a quieter mind. Quieter and quieter, the stages of silence. But nearly complete inner silence is not out of reach entirely, as I will get to.
Let’s start with a tiny bit of inner silence. I will use an analogy: Running, jogging, walking, strolling, standing still, sitting, lying down. Now apply it to your mind. You’ve lost something. You are searching frantically, your mind racing. You feel stressed. Then you give up. Later, when your mind has gone from running to jogging, you remember where the thing is. Or you wisely sit down to think about where you last saw it, and in that quieter state you remember.
Maybe you can’t remember a name, try as you may, but later when you’re quiet–by my analogy you would be standing not running–it comes to mind. Maybe you’re trying to solve a problem, but when you’re more relaxed, “sitting,” you find the solution. You are doing something creative, then quit, feeling tired. You “lie down,” figuratively and literally, so that in the middle of the night, your mind relatively still, you have a creative insight. Many creative people report their best ideas coming in the night, in dreams even, or when they are just taking time off away from their work.
If, before charging into action, a person just reflects a bit (using a quieter mind), as HSPs do by nature, their actions are likely to be wiser. When we HSPs seem to act quickly, often we have previously reflected on the same type of situation, so that our quick action will still be based on previous quiet thought. This is in fact our survival strategy, pure and simple: Observe and reflect before acting. “Look before you leap.” “The farther you pull the arrow back, the farther it will fly.” But everyone, HSP or not, can improve their actions–and their chances of survival–if they just take the time to settle down and think. (If only more people actually did.)
What If We Go Deeper Still
Let’s go deeper. If everyone at their work or at school sat down, closed their eyes, and were silent for 10 minutes each day, whatever they did in that silence, you can probably imagine the good effect. Deeper still, many find silent prayer or contemplation extremely useful. And there is meditation, the route I have used for 46 years. I chose Transcendental Meditation, partly because its goal is the deepest possible rest and inner silence (well beyond “thinking a mantra”). Any meditation, however, or any deliberate method of turning inwards to find that deeper quiet, has its degrees.
How deep I go in meditation depends on how busy or stressful my outer life has been that day. Any amount deeper helps quiet the mind, so I believe all of my meditations are “good.” But they do vary. Suppose I rated my meditations from 1, very deep, to 10, rather shallow because of a high level of stress during the day resulting in many thoughts and feelings, or distracting stimulation nearby. At home, at peace already, I might go from 3 to 1. Very nice. But in a way, when I’m stressed, going from 10 to 7 feels more valuable.
For example, I recall meditating as best I could while standing in a crowded subway car after it had stopped mid-station and the lights had gone out. Or meditating in a hot airplane stuck on the tarmac for two hours. As time passed in both of these situations, people became anxious or angry. To help me stay calm, I meditated, again moving me only from 10 to maybe 9 on the inner silence scale, especially the time I was standing in the subway! But I could tell that this “9” remarkably helped not only me but those near me as well. Maybe this is over generalizing, but think of how much better the world would be if HSPs regularly did whatever they chose to do to instill inner silence into the atmosphere.
There’s nothing new about this. In every time and tradition, people have entered inner silence for the purpose of helping the world as well as themselves. Sometimes people choose a life style of inner quiet, as in a monastery. Or they seriously devote a healthy portion of their life to cultivating inner silence, even while also engaged in the world. It is quite possible to do. Indeed, the time spent often is made up for by feeling fresh, tranquil, and efficient when you do work.
Whatever the tradition, those committed to these deeper levels of inner silence and calm report at its deepest the same satisfying state (I could supply you with dozens of quotes), perhaps best called “pure consciousness” because it can be without thoughts, feelings, or perceptions. Yet you are wide awake inside. Some experience it as a “brilliant darkness” or the “palace of nowhere.” Although one can reduce the experience to a mere pattern of brain activation (and a very useful one), those who experience it repeatedly associate it with various ultimates beyond description, such as God, Allah, Brahman, the Absolute, or the Ground of Being.
A friend of mine and comparative religion scholar, Robert Forman, likens the universality of this experience to astronauts taking off in different rockets from all over the world, and once they reach outer space, they all experience weightlessness. However they describe weightlessness, same state. In the case of pure consciousness, these inner explorers also seem to find the same state.
Bringing It Home—It’s Not Hard
“I can’t imagine my mind completely stopping.” That’s fine. This deep inner silence is not always without thoughts. It may feel more like a background to thinking, a silent background that moves to the foreground as you go deeper, or it feels like a screen on which life’s mental stuff happens, but soon the screen itself becomes more interesting, more charming. Think of offering the “monkey mind” a banana and it settles down. It may wiggle a bit, but basically it is in bliss. The mind loves those deep states, even if tossed out at times by the stresses of your day. That’s why I, at least, have had no trouble meditating twice a day for almost half a century.
You do not have to be a mystic to reach this state. Several forms of meditation can bring you to very deep silence, especially with daily practice. I guess I’m trying to say that it’s natural and easy, your birthright so to speak. You have probably stumbled upon deep inner silence before, maybe first in childhood, out under a tree. It is so natural that if you begin a practice and are regular, this deep silence should be experienced to some degree in days or weeks, not years. If a daily practice (time in nature, yoga, prayer, concentration, contemplation) does not take you there, you might consider adding some time with a practice that does (without necessarily discarding the other, which may have other significant value for you).
Finally, as you develop that inner silence, you might effortlessly turn your attention to it during your day. Often it is surprisingly easy to find and enjoy it anywhere you are. It does not interrupt what you are doing because it has no content. You go on more or less as always, but the overall state of the brain feels different.
As the frequency of this awareness increases, it is my experience (and many others’) that one finds a kind of calm satisfaction with life. Things go easier and easier in various areas of your life, almost magically. Life is not perfect. It is still possible to suffer in some sense, but there is also something at the same time, well, satisfying about life.
I have described this deeper state and its integration with life so thoroughly because I suspect that most HSPs were born seekers, whether conscious of it (yet) or not. While I don’t want to tell you what path or what goal you should seek, I do not want to leave you completely alone with your inner seeker, either. So perhaps this discussion will stir something. Or simply inspire you to find more efficient downtime! More rest in less time!
Finally, I know we are all worried about a great many things happening in the world, but I think you would agree that some inner quiet would help. After all, being crippled with despair about the state of things does not help. In contrast, inner silence brings some calm. It helps us to see the big picture, gain some equanimity. Bottom line: The deeper and more frequently we HSPs go inside, the more we nourish everyone and everything around us, including of course ourselves.
I wrote the original “last lecture” because I find most people do not know about this inner silence or the possibility of integrating it with daily life. This seems like a terribly unfortunate lack of basic knowledge about a remarkable human capacity. Imagine most humans not knowing they can learn to swim. Strange, yes? Since we HSPs are the pearl divers of humanity, we need to teach them at least to dog paddle!