IT’S A RARE RAINY DAY in March at Aurovalley Ashram and I’m listening for the sound of silence. I can hear silence in the sound of tiny drops of water landing on the earth. I can hear silence in the bright flowers that sway with happiness in the light breeze. I can hear silence in the moving joy of the butterflies, unheeding the gentle rain. I can hear silence in the chirps of the sparrows, the songs of the parakeets, the shrieks of the peacocks. I can hear silence in the mighty thick pastiches of clouds.
In nature, silence is the manifest of the divine. There is never a sound out of place. Even with the roar of a waterfall or the rumble of thunder, you can be alone with yourself. The silence and the sound are as one. They envelope you with their inner stillness, their spontaneous expression.
Silence is a necessity for discovering yourself. But in today’s world, silence is becoming a rare and treasured luxury. Silence is one of the characteristics of nature and of profoundly peaceful spiritual centres, like Aurovalley Ashram — and the reason people are drawn to these sacred places.
On the lawn at Aurovalley Ashram
Here at Aurovalley Ashram in the Garwhal region of Uttarakhand, India, the silence is profoundly peaceful. Surrounded by the Shivaliks, the foothills of the Himalayas, Rajaji National Park, meadows of wild basil and grazing cows, rich farmland and a gentle tributary of the Ganga (Ganges) River, there is little to break the spell.
Since childhood at our family cottage on a lake in central Ontario, Canada, I have loved to be alone in a summery, natural environment. I have distinct memories of paddling the big, wood canoe to the shallow edges of the bay, and dreamily watching the undulating seaweed, darting crayfish and flashing minnows. I lost myself, my sense of time and space, as I immersed in the natural world, becoming one with it if only for a moment.
Those moments were laced with eternity, and very similar to what I find at Aurovalley Ashram. Spiritual peace is akin to the carefree innocence of childhood, in many ways, and the sunny flower-filled meadows of this valley, through which the Ganga runs, remind me of those cottage meadows of my youth.
Flowers at Aurovalley Ashram.
Then, as now, I have loved to soak up the silence of nature. Today, it is probably the most luxurious “commodity” as our world becomes increasingly crowded, industrialized and noisy. Silence is one of the reasons Aurovalley Ashram founder Swami Brahmdev (Swamiji) created this heaven-on-earth.
“Silence is the nature of the divine, it is the expression of your soul,” Swamiji says. “Wherever there is silence, there is soul, there is divine, there is presence. Life expresses itself in silence.”
Silence is a fragrance of soul.
Swamiji recommends that people who come to Aurovalley Ashram experiment with silence. He says, “Watch nature, see how nature expresses herself in silence. Make an effort to be silent and see what happens. Something will awaken in you. Life will become clear, simple. Only in silence can you discover yourself.”
At Aurovalley Ashram, and many other ashrams and spiritual centres, you can actively pursue a silent retreat. You can wear a badge indicating that you are in silence for a day, a week or even longer.
Swamiji explains that most of the time, we are reacting. Reactions are mostly negative, and a waste of energy. If you look at nature, it does not react. Nature expresses her divinity. If we, too, are silent, we can learn to spontaneously express ourselves. “Silence is your true nature.”
On the World Temple roof, Aurovalley Ashram, India
My experiments with silence
I tried the silent experiment for a day at the ashram. I actually found it a relief. I was given permission to be in my own little world — an introvert’s idea of bliss.
Slowly, over the course of the day, I began to see the world differently. Human noises became almost unbearable, while the sounds of nature became much more joyful.
By late afternoon, everything began to take on a different dimension, as if I was entering an altered state — or a truer way of seeing. I noticed things I had never noticed before.
Silence is the birthplace of your soul.
I walked around the grounds of the ashram to try and take “photos of silence” and saw flowers in a new way, as more detailed and individualistic. I also used my telephoto lens to shoot them, and came up with a new (for me) photography style.
During evening meditation, I felt myself sinking down into the depths, as if diving in the ocean. I thought of the Marabar Caves and the timeless echo from the book A Passage to India.
After dark, I walked on the roof of the World Temple, and saw lights on the distant hill tops that I had never seen before.
Speech is silver, silence is golden.
I saw an illumination, an undulating sense of the world as a living organism. I fell in love with creation. I was punch drunk with love as I danced on the roof, the stars twinkling above, devotional music from a nearby temple wafting on the breeze and the warm spring evening enveloping me with tenderness.
In the silent chamber of my inner being I sensed a spiritual truth often lost in the rush and din of everyday life. I sensed the pulsing oneness of creation, and myself as part of it, alive and flowing, moving, breathing together … on a silent rooftop in north India.
Sunrise at Aurovalley Ashram, India