Noble Silence and Noble Rest

Noble Silence and Noble Rest

Discussion date: Fri, Apr 29, 2011 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

In the Plum Village tradition we have the opportunity to experience Noble Silence. Noble Silence is not simply the absence of sound or speech. Noble Silence invites us to calm the discursive mind, to let go of our internal commentary, including our judgments, worries, and fantasies. We nourish mindfulness: a caring, wordless, appreciative awareness.

There is nothing inherently wrong with thinking, reflecting, or planning. These are essential cognitive tools. However, when they are the only tools we use, we are cut off from direct contact with our own vitality. Life becomes more difficult, less enjoyable.

Like Noble Silence, resting is an essential part of the practice. Perhaps we could call it Noble Rest. In order to refresh ourselves we might go to the beach or the mountains to be in natural surroundings, or we might take a “mental health day” at home. Noble Rest, however, is not simple the absence of work. Noble Rest, like Noble Silence, encourages us to explore our interior consciousness.

Within many of us is an energy constantly pushing us to do something productive (or at least entertaining), to become someone of value, or to achieve recognition. We are like Sysyphus, except instead of pushing a rock uphill we are eternally trying to please an internalized disapproving parent or teacher, whom we can never satisfy. Until we address this internal condition, our refreshment will always be short-lived.

Thich Nhat Hanh encourages us to learn the “art of resting”:

Resting is a very important practice; we have to learn the art of resting. . . . Our mind as well as our body needs to rest.

The problem is that not many of us know how to allow our body and mind to rest. We are always struggling; struggling has become a kind of habit. We cannot resist being active, struggling all the time. We struggle even during our sleep.

It is very important to realize that we have the habit energy of struggling. We have to be able to recognize a habit when it manifests itself because if we know how to recognize our habit, it will lose its energy and will not be able to push us anymore. (From Resting in the River, March, 1998, Shambhala Sun)

One way we can practice Noble Resting is with sitting and walking meditation. We relax our body and our mind. We observe the subtle restless energies and smile to them. We learn to let go of our striving and struggles. Although when we first begin there may be some uncertainty and unfamiliarity, once we have learned the basics of sitting and walking meditation, most of us find it deeply refreshing.

There are also other ways to practice Noble Resting in our daily lives. It is possible to rest right in the midst of an active life. It is possible to get a lot done and not feel drained or busy. Frank Ostaseski, the founder of the Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco, encourages those who work with the dying to “Find a place of rest in the middle of things”:

We often think of rest as something that will come when everything else is complete, like when we go on a holiday or when our work is done. We imagine that we can only find rest by changing the conditions of our life. But it is possible to discover rest right in the middle of chaos. It is experienced when we bring our full attention, without distraction, to this moment, to this activity. This place of rest is always available. We need only turn toward it. It’s an aspect of us that’s never sick, is not born, and does not die. (From “The Five Precepts” by Frank Ostaseski)

You are invited to join us this Thursday evening. After our meditation we will share our experiences with Noble Silence and Noble Rest. What helps us to quiet our minds and fully rest in the present moment? What makes it more difficult?

Our evening will begin at 6:30 with a brief orientation to mindfulness practice and the Still Water community. (If you would like to attend the orientation, please let us know by emailing us at info@StillWaterMPC.org.)

In the excerpt below, Thich Nhat Hanh addresses the origin of our restlessness.

A list of upcoming Still Water special events is also below. Please note that because of hurricane Irene the Quiet Hike in the Catoctins was rescheduled for this Saturday, September 3rd.

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner


Learning to Rest

by Thich Nhat Hanh, from “Resting in the River,” March, 1998, Shambhala Sun

Ten years ago I was in India visiting the ex-untouchable community of Buddhists. A friend who belonged to the caste organized the trip for me. I was sitting on the bus, enjoying the landscape outside, contemplating the palm trees and the vegetation. Suddenly I turned and I saw him looking very tense. There was no reason why he had to be tense like that. I thought that he was trying to make my visit pleasant and maybe that was the reason he was so tense. I told him, “Dear friend, I know that you want to make my trip pleasant, but I am already very happy. I’ve already enjoyed the trip. So why don’t you sit back, smile, and relax?” He said, “Okay,” and he sat back and he tried to relax.

I was pleased and I turned my face toward the window again and I enjoyed the palm trees and other things. But just a few minutes after when I looked back at him he was as tense as before. He was not able to relax, to allow himself to relax. I knew that he belonged to that section of the population that had been struggling for many thousand years. He was discriminated against. He had suffered so much, his ancestors and himself and his children. So the tendency to struggle has been there for many thousand years. That is why it was very difficult for him to allow himself to rest.

We have to practice in order to be able to transform this habit in us. The habit of struggle has become a powerful source of energy that is shaping our behavior, our actions and our reactions.

When an animal in the jungle is wounded, it knows how to find a quiet place, lie down and do nothing. The animal knows that is the only way to get healed-to lay down and just rest, not thinking of anything, including hunting and eating. Not eating is a very wonderful way of allowing your body to rest. We are so concerned about how to get nutrition that we are afraid of resting, of allowing our body to rest and to fast. The animal knows that it does not need to eat. What it needs is to rest, to do nothing, and that is why its health is restored.

In our consciousness there are wounds also, lots of pains. Our consciousness also needs to rest in order to restore itself. Our consciousness is just like our body. Our body knows how to heal itself if we allow it the chance to do so. When we get a cut on our finger we don’t have to do anything except to clean it and to allow it the time to heal, because our body knows how to heal itself. The same thing is true with our consciousness; our consciousness knows how to heal itself if we know how to allow it to do so. But we don’t allow it. We always try to do something. We worry so much about healing, which is why we do not get the healing we need. Only if we know how to allow them to rest can our body and our soul heal themselves.

But there is in us what we call the energy of restlessness. We cannot be at peace with ourselves. We cannot be peaceful. We cannot sit; we cannot lie down. There is some energy in us to do this, to do that, to think of this, to think of that, and that kind of restlessness makes us unhappy. That is why it is so important for us to learn first of all to allow our body to rest. We have to learn how to deal with all our energy of restlessness. That is why we have to learn these techniques of allowing our body and our consciousness to rest.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Fri, Apr 29, 2011


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