Wherever you go…there you are…
Going back to standing outside, in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by snow and no other living creatures, lit by the moonlight. It was quiet. It was silent. The only noise was the noise in my head. My mind whirring around at a million miles per hour, synapses firing, the mind not as easily quieted. The mind that is bombarded constantly with images, sounds, words, “noise”, is not easily settled. The only thing I could hear was my voice, in my mind, after all, wherever you go, there you are.
I was like most other twenty-somethings wanting to travel to go and “find myself”. At 19, I set off for Thailand despite my mother’s chagrin. After all, I had refused a “promotion” at the bank to embark on this journey. After seven weeks of travel, sun, scuba diving and “culture”, I returned home. The only thing I had found was a renewed love of travel, a new passion for scuba diving and a big crush on my scuba diving instructor (again, despite my mother’s displeasure). When I was 24, I tried this travel and find myself thing again, perhaps I just did it wrong when I was still young. I spent 4 weeks in Europe. The first three weeks I spent on an organized tour with 29 other twenty-somethings hitting all the highlights of Western Europe. The final week was spent with my extended family in the South of England. Again, I returned without knowing myself any better. I didn’t find myself, but I did find a very large credit card debt and a very real need to detoxify my liver! I also learned that wherever you go, there you are. I could not escape the whirring of my mind and I would not be able to truly “find myself” until I found a way to quiet the constant hamster wheel and find the silence within to listen.
As an adult, I’ve attached myself to the buzzwords of mindfulness and meditation. Sitting still and breathing for a period of time will surely quiet my mind. It doesn’t. I simply sit in forced silence, on my trendy Lululemon yoga mat, listening to my thoughts whirl around me and debating whether or not it has been 5 minutes yet. At the end, I open my eyes, bring my breathing back to “normal” and check the box next to Meditate in my Passion Planner. But I have yet to attain true silence. I have yet to push past the thoughts that bombard my mind; the ones that are uncomfortable and unapologetic, driving me to seek further stimulation and validation.
The mind has over 60,000 thoughts every day and according to one article, 85% of these thoughts are the same as the previous day, illustrating that much of our thinking is habitual. The mind is a very powerful tool, but it also lies. I have found myself in solitude and silence, with my active mind, I hear my fears, my insecurities, ‘I’m not good enough, or talented enough, or loved enough’. Instead of pushing past those thoughts and learning to still my mind, I try to drown them with more input. I go to Instagram to make sure I have achieved “enough” followers and likes, as if to prove that I am good enough, that I do have talent. Despite the studies and articles that explain to us why quiet and solitude are so important for our health and for getting to know our true essence, whenever we do have solitude we grab our phones to make sure that we are not alone.
Meditation retreats and silent retreats are becoming more and more popular in our age of electronic, immediate and instant gratification. Our sources of input, and extraneous noise, are greater than ever; and the value in silence, in resting our minds, to be able to truly decompress and de-stress have never been more vital to our health and wellbeing. Guy Burgs is the silent meditation guru in the UK, conducting week long retreats offering silence, no phones, no talking, no books, no pens, you get the picture. In one skeptic’s account of his experience, he stated that the retreat was a combination of classes and meditation sessions and he realized that quieting the mind and embracing silence was a skill that required intelligence and creativity. Burgs teaches that the silent retreat is like a detoxification. Once you stop bombarding your body and mind with new “stuff” and input, the body starts clearing out. We often seek stimulation because we don’t want to be with how we feel.
I have often used silence and “mindfulness” in an attempt to get away from how I feel, get away from myself. Often believing that through meditation, I can hear and achieve, well, nothingness. I have even braved the claustrophobia inducing sensory-deprivation, or float, tanks to achieve this ideal. However, achieving nothingness is not the goal of quieting the mind. The purpose of external silence is to practice developing internal silence, attempting to stop the hamster on the wheel for a moment, a chance to listen, really listen to what is at our core. It is about practicing awareness and acceptance, and listening to who we truly. To bring that presence and essence of self forward into our everyday lives. The ability to know who I am can only happen through conversation and “being” with myself, beyond the noise and the hamster on his wheel, beyond the fears and the insecurities and the constant bombardment of input and information and stimuli. The only way to “find myself” is to go within myself and realize that I’ve been there all along. After all, where ever you go, there you are.