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Silence vs. Satsang

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Q: I attended many gatherings for satsang in the last few years. It's too loud. I like silence more. But it confuses me because it is said that there's more power in doing anything together with others. Can you please explain the dichotomy? How can I pursue and start enjoying silence more? I also am interested in your introductory rate for a mentoring session.

A: There is no formula that works for everyone. If you are drawn to silence, then I would trust your inner sense of things. At some point that might also shift, and you may feel drawn again to more contact with groups, but it is normal and natural to sometimes find lots of interactions with other people too "loud" as you say. Your own heart and your deepest sense of what feels true for you is the best guide.

There is no real dichotomy here, as all spiritual practices are complimentary, not contradictory. The art is to explore them with openness and curiosity. If a particular spiritual practice or activity is meant for you at this time, it will almost immediately resonate with you and start to have a beneficial effect. If it is not meant for you, you will almost immediately feel more contracted and stirred up by the practice, or it will simply have little or no effect on you. So while it can be worthwhile to explore a range of practices and approaches, the best way to measure their appropriateness for you is to observe the direct effects they are having. This should be clear within a week or two after starting any practice.

As for silence itself, outer silence is the simplest way to experience more inner silence, so anytime you can sit still and just breath or listen to the quieter sounds of your body or of nature, that can naturally evoke more silence. There are more simple suggestions for how to meditate here, in case you are not already familiar with formal meditation: http://endless-satsang.com/super-simple-instructions-for-meditation-beginners.htm

However, there can be a kind of "noisy" silence, where you sit quietly, but your mind gets very busy and loud. That is also normal and natural. Often if you just stay with the process and allow everything to unfold, it will quiet down. This is a big part of what meditation is all about. I will share that some recent neuroscience research has suggested that this process of quieting the mind typically can take 45 minutes or more. So if you can meditate for an hour or longer at a time, you may find that the results are more effective.

Sometimes there are aspects of our conditioning or mental thought patterns that are more resistant and so cause a lot of excess mind activity. This is where a practice of inquiry can help loosen and eventually release some of the stickier conditioning we have accumulated. There are many forms of general and open-ended inquiry in addition to the more traditional and directed practice of self-inquiry that is described here: http://endless-satsang.com/the-practice-and-purpose-of-self-inquiry.htm . In essence, any deep questioning and curiosity about your thoughts and experiences and identifications can start to unravel them. You can do this inquiry on your own, and it also can be helpful to do it with a guide, either in a group setting, like satsang, or in one-on-one mentoring.

I hope this is a little helpful and do let me know if you want to have a mentoring session on the phone or skype. I just need to know what time zone you are in and what times/days work for you so I can suggest some available times. More info about the mentoring I offer is here.

Barracuda and Chub under Silversides

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Commitment vs. Spontaneity: Why Not Both?

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Q: I have been reading your wonderful books for the past few months and im deeply touched by their wisdom, so maybe you will have a suggestion how to deal with something that troubles me now and again. It's an issue of commitment. especially when it comes to my work, but it also in relationships. I am very creative and I have lots of new ideas all the time, which sway me many times from one sphere of life to another. For example, I commited to invest my time in meditation and spiritual work for the next two years. but then I missed my art/writing so i went back to writing. Then, i talked to someone about my purpose in life - which he told me was to instruct people spiritually through creativity and art so now I find myself walking that direction. Its all connected, but each one is with a different angle on things, a different kind of doing - meditating, writing, marketing. I find it so confusing. I dont want to go back to "managing my time." I really love listening to what is right for every moment, but then, I'm afraid I might go off track and not get anywhere. Sometimes, I even just find myself enjoying sitting and feeling the freedom of doing nothing :)

I'd be happy to hear what you think, and thank you.

A: These are very good questions. The opportunity is to really be with the questions: What is the role of commitment? What am I committed to? When do I follow my commitments and when do I follow my more spontaneous impulses? How are both of those experiences enriching me and how are they limiting me?

There are no right or wrong answers, and the answers do naturally and continuously change and evolve. Also, it does not need to be black and white. Sometimes the best answer is "all of the above". You might want to explore how you can express both commitment and spontaneity in your daily life. There is room here for both of these approaches to living. They are complimentary, not contradictory. There is a richness that is added to our commitments when we hold them lightly and allow spontaneous actions and impulses. And there is a richness that is added to our spontaneity when we hold more firmly at times to our deeper commitments. When musicians improvise, they often start with some kind of structure or melody, or else the improvisation can be scattered and uninteresting. A little structure can paradoxically free the improvisation to really soar and spread its wings.

A very big truth is that it does not matter that much where you get to or what you accomplish in life as the most important thing is what you already are and have always been: pure aware presence. And yet, this bigger truth can actually free you to try many different ways of living and acting on the more relative level. If it does not matter that much what you accomplish, then you are free to make and keep commitments sometimes. And you are also free to change and move more impulsively sometimes. Again....all of the above. You can even explore the possibility of being both committed and spontaneous simultaneously. There are so many levels to every experience, that it is not really ever only one or the other that is possible.

Specifically, why not include all of the activities you mentioned in your daily life at various moments? And of course, you can include just sitting and doing nothing. That is immensely valuable in itself. And if you include all of the possible activities over time, then maybe instead of getting somewhere, eventually you will get everywhere! You are infinite and eternal, so ultimately, you can take your time and do it all!

I will add that the real value of commitment is not in the future. The real value of commitment in relationships and our work is that it can paradoxically free us to be more in the present moment. If you are committed to your lover, then you can set aside for this moment the questioning of whether to be in the relationship or not, and just be here now with your lover in both difficult and pleasant moments. No one knows what the future will actually bring, but right now, what are you committed to? How does that commitment enrich your life in this moment? Does holding back from commitment actually limit you in this moment from being your fully spontaneous and authentic self? It can work both ways. If a commitment frees you to be more in the moment, then it is worthwhile and worth holding on to. If over time, you discover that a commitment mostly interferes with the fullest expression of your authentic self, that is when it is appropriate to re-evaluate that commitment.

Both commitment and spontaneity are spiritual muscles that are worth strengthening. A full, rich, complete exploration of life requires both abilities. And while it can be humbling at times to look at yourself with clear-eyed discrimination, you may already have a sense of which "muscle" is already strong in your individual expression and which "muscle" could use some more exercise. In balancing your life, you can celebrate the abilities you already have developed and then also experiment with the other possible ways of more fully living your life.

I hope this is helpful.


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