Silence (antar mouna)
The word antar means ‘inner’ and mouna means ‘silence’ derived from the Sanskrit root mun which means to measure. This is a practice for attaining pratyahara, withdrawal of the mind from the sense objects that we practiced last weekend at our Bliss Bomb Retreat at the Rocklyn Yoga Ashram where silence starts after the evening program, until after breakfast wash up the following day.
Mouna is a dedicated period of silence where we continue our yoga practice and daily lives without speaking – it is a key part of ashram life. This is seen as a precious time for freeing the mind of unnecessary thoughts and worries which naturally accumulate in daily life.
In Hindu philosophy, Mouna (Silence) is said to have a voice of its own, referring to a deep peace of mind and inner quietude. The Hindu texts insist upon a proper understanding of silence by experiencing it through control of speech and practice. In Mouna practice, we measure and observe the input and output of the senses as a pathway to inner silence.
At its most basic, Mouna is often practiced as non-speaking and introduced in yoga retreats perhaps for a few hours or part of a daily practice. At more advanced levels Mouna may extend to a day or several days on retreat.
In our daily regular life, which is constantly noisy and distracting and demanding, we talk a lot. Much of our awareness is forcibly directed outward, into the external world through our speech. However, on retreat or at an ashram, our focus naturally shifts to the world within.
The practice of mouna encourages our awareness to shift inward so that we engaged with a much deeper understanding of our thoughts, emotions, desires, and ambitions. The energy we conserve when not speaking is then available for our spiritual practice, and with regular practice helps sharpen our awareness of the present moment, bringing a deeper sense of stillness to the mind.
I recall my first experience of mouna as an unexpected part of a weekend meditation retreat
After spending considerable time in personal silent meditation, on the second day we were asked to take that inner silence with us from breakfast until the afternoon tea break. Without any distractions or entertainment, no yoga or reading, no listening to music or drawing, no nothing .. nothing to DO!!! It was unexpectedly challenging to start, then agitating when I realized that I couldn’t just read that book I wanted to read, or explain myself to someone, or write down my insights (which began flowing quick and fast .. as they often do when space is allowed).
After a few hours of general unease, I found myself ‘giving up’ and sitting by a pond full of birds and insects .. and as if wool had suddenly been removed from my ears, I became captivated by the immense orchestra of wildlife around me, the vastness of the blue sky above me, the wind singing crazy songs through the trees, the insects buzzing above my head .. and it was intoxicating. I was mesmerized, held in an ongoing sense of complete now.
As our mouna practice was brought to an end with the sounding of a huge outside bell, I felt a deep sense of loss and sadness. A physical pain.
I hold that experience as one of the most beautiful in my life
Mouna is not only about not talking .. it extends to a commitment to observing and measuring the expression of our senses as a pathway to inner silence.
There are different types of mouna or silence practice. In some, you may be asked to maintain silence, but allowed to speak when needed – at that time our speech is still to be controlled. In other practices, you may not speak at all, but can write and use gestures to communicate; then there are practices where we refrain from all communication including eye contact.
Overall the practice of mouna is to achieve mouna of the mind. By controlling our speech, our thinking and our doing, we preserve our prana (life energy) and by not wasting our prana, we lengthen our life (or not finish our life too quickly).
When we sit in silence for a short time, and gradually lengthening that time, we give our mind a chance to wind down and fully embrace the present moment of NOW. We are detoxing the mind of all the noise, the remnants of thoughts and experiences, the obsession with distraction and sensory overload .. so that we might find our way back to ourselves and the pure quiet within.
A Mouna Practice
Start with a few brief periods of ‘intentional silence’ where you hold off on speaking and just focus on a task. Chose a day when there is less chance of needing to engage with others, a day off work perhaps might be a good start or a time when you are naturally quieting such as early morning or the last hour before bed.
1. Set an Intention
Everything begins with intention. To start, give your intention to be silent for a short period of time, it might just be 15 minutes, and allow the experience of silence to truly be the only task for that 15 minutes. When done on a regular basis this can become a beautiful daily ritual. Equally, a day may arrive when you are home alone, less likely to be interrupted, and this will allow for a deeper sense of spacious silence and peace.
2. Stop Talking
Start with simply not talking, although Mouna means more than just not speaking – the intention also included nonverbal communication – so, turn off the computer, iPhone, television, radio etc and power down all devices.
As you silently move through this period of mouna, observe your thoughts and actions. Does your coffee taste better? do you engage more deeply with your task or activity at hand? Do you notice your environment in more detail? Do you notice an urgent need to speak or chatter? Many of us at times suffer from a need to fill the silence, but this practice allows us to observe these habitual reactions and thoughts .. just notice.
4. Cultivate mouna of the mind
The practice of mouna is ultimately about silence of the mind. When we avoid verbal and nonverbal communication we are gently led into this sense of silence but do not try ‘force’ mouna, just notice the thoughts, distractions, and chatter of the mind without judgment or emotion.