We are so used to the constant internal dialogue that we have no conception of what it means to have ‘silence of the mind’. We strive to fill up any silence with sound, whether through conversation, consumption of media, music or even treating television or radio as ‘background noise’ for our daily lives. We fear silence in our interpersonal relationships and work to ‘make conversation.’ While we are waiting on the telephone, we hear music. When we ride in an elevator we hear music. Sound is constantly blasting at us wherever we go. Just the idea of silence is terrifying to most people. The closest we come to experiencing silence in the mind is when we listen quietly but intensely to music, or when we are concentrated on some observation or activity that removes us from our normal mental standpoint. In some cases, a glimpse can occur when we are out in nature and we experience a state of wide, pervasive, universal peace.
Let us reflect then on the objective set by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother to achieve silence of the mind. Why is silence of the mind important? As long as we accept and allow the mind to repeat its mechanical round of thought, or its normal method of functioning, we remain bound within the mind’s limitations. The next stage of the spiritual evolution brings in a new power of consciousness, and this new power enters and permeates our being through a silence akin to the vastness of universal space.
As the seeker begins to get glimpses of this silence, the first concern is whether this means we are becoming dull, stupid or incompetent! How can we function if the mind is silent? The second concern is whether this is achieved through dulling of the mind and the senses, such as through the use of soporific substances, making the mind unresponsive and non-attentive.
It quickly becomes clear, however, as the spiritual sadhana develops, that the silent mind is not a sign of weakness, nor developed through dulling of the senses. It is not a state of sleep or some drug-induced stupor. Rather, it is a state of enhanced awareness, vibrant and energetic responsiveness, and higher vibratory levels, and that it is a receptive silence that welcomes and accepts the higher evolutionary forces waiting to manifest.
The Mother writes: “The mind must learn to be silent — remain calm, attentive, without making a noise. If you try to silence the mind directly, it is a hard job, almost impossible; for the most material part of the mind never stops its activity — it goes on and on like a non-stop recording machine. It repeats all that it records and unless there is a switch to stop it, it continues and continues indefinitely. If, on the other hand, you manage to shift your consciousness into a higher domain, above the ordinary mind, this opening to the Light calms the mind, it does not stir any longer, and the mental silence so obtained can become constant. Once you enter into this domain, you may very well never come out of it — the external mind always remains calm. … The only true solution is aspiration for the higher light.”
Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of Mind, Mental Noise, pp. 30-32