Many people often expressed wonder at how Mother Teresa managed to work in conditions of extreme poverty in India. She often answered by expressing pity for the “poverty-stricken West.”
In an interview for Journal Chretien she said, “The spiritual poverty of the Western World is much greater than the physical poverty of our people. You, in the West, have millions of people who suffer such terrible loneliness and emptiness. They feel unloved and unwanted. These people are not hungry in the physical sense, but they are in another way. They know they need something more than money, yet they don’t know what it is.”
For most of us, that something is sukha-shanti, a Sanskrit phrase for happiness—not the happiness that comes from fleeting pleasures, but happiness that comes from peace of mind. This is “spiritual wealth,” the opposite of spiritual poverty.
Unfortunately, for many of us, happiness and peace of mind are so intricately tied to our bank accounts and our financial bottom lines that it has become impossible to feel relaxed and confident about life as long as the global economy is tanking. As the economic crisis grows, we are being forced into a spiritual crisis: our spiritual capital, which Mother Teresa didn’t think we had much of in the first place, is being depleted, replaced by fear, worry, and even more emptiness.
Silence: The Abode of Spirit
So how can we start to rebuild those spiritual reserves? We can start with silence, the abode of spirit. Let’s face it: Life has become very noisy—on every level. I’m writing this late at night because I was awakened by loud music from nearby neighbors. Television sound goes up several decibels the minute the commercials start, blasting our senses and sensibilities. Electrical noise fills the airwaves. We are constantly being broadcast to. Somebody or something is constantly bombarding us with messages on radio, tv, t-shirts, busses, movies, cell phones, the web—and the list goes on. Even when we try to be quiet, our minds are often filled with the “noise’” of endless thoughts keeping us active and awake. It seems as if there’s no way to escape, no place to rest.
But rest we must. Take a look at nature, where cycles of rest and activity are unfailing. Night always follows day. Spring always follows winter. Our best efforts usually occur when we, too, follow appropriate cycles of rest and activity. When rested, we’re clearer, able to make decisions more easily. When we’re tired, even the smallest obstacles can feel overwhelming. How can we connect with anything even vaguely spiritual when we’re working hard just to make it through the day?
Contacting the Field of Silence
The answer is to discover the silence behind the noise, both within and around us. Silence is within each of us, or more accurately, each of us is found within the Field of Silence. Here are some suggestions for contacting and cultivating silence:
1. Meditation. Finding time may seem hard at first, but the same thing was true when you wondered how you were ever going to fit exercise into your routine. Once you found the time and experienced the benefits, it became part of your routine, like brushing your teeth.
Learn a technique (I still practice the Transcendental Meditation technique after 35 years) or just sit with your eyes closed and watch your breath for a few minutes every day. See if you can notice the silence within you. Then see if you can find it outside, as the background against which all noise is heard. It’s like the silent screen that supports the movie, even though you don’t notice it once the movie’s playing.
2. Prayer. Even though there may be “conversation” going on, prayer still gives us the chance to settle down and settle in, turning the attention inside.
3. Alone time. It’s human to interact with others but critical to feel comfortable spending time alone. We expend more energy talking each day than through almost all other activities combined. By not engaging with others, either in person, on the phone, or on-line, we give ourselves time to rest and reconnect with ourselves.
4. Inspiration. Have you ever looked at a piece of art, say a work by Van Gogh, and suddenly found that you had “transcended”? In other words, you “went somewhere.” You were awake, but for a split second, your mind wasn’t engaged in any thought, just free and in perfect peace. While the experience of inspiration may uplift or cause us to feel expanded in some way, it is very restful.
5. Nature. It’s a big topic, and it contains the full range of life, from violence to the greatest peace. But doing some simple activity in nature, like walking through a park with lots of trees, can draw the experience of stillness to the forefront of awareness.
Remember that silence is the basis of activity. You are not going to become less productive or creative just because you start to become aware of the stillness underlying all of life. In fact, the opposite is true. You’ll be building your spiritual reserves, and you will likely discover that you are more creative, more balanced and more serene. When this happens, the ground is laid for dealing with the ups and downs of material wealth with greater ease and simplicity.
Jennifer Read Hawthorne is an inspirational speaker and author who has written or co-authored seven books, including Life Lessons for Loving the Way You Live and the #1 New York Times bestseller Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul. To book Jennifer for a keynote address, visit her website at www.jenniferhawthorne.com or call (612) 865-4550.