Last year I was asked by a Korean publisher to write what I would say if I were giving my “last lecture.” This was for a Korean-language anthology, in which many authors (most you would recognize) were offering their answer. For me the subject was easy–inner silence. You as an HSP understand my choice intuitively, but I will summarize my essay for you anyway.
What do I mean by inner silence? Obviously it’s not outer silence. It can be noisy outside and yet you can access the quiet inside. Simply closing your eyes removes 80 percent of the stimulation to your brain. Instant momentary Highly Sensitive Person downtime. I also do not mean total silence. Perhaps it would be better to say a quieter mind. Quieter and quieter, the stages of silence. But nearly complete inner silence is not out of reach entirely, as I will get to.
Let’s start with a tiny bit of inner silence. I will use an analogy: Running, jogging, walking, strolling, standing still, sitting, lying down. Now apply it to your mind. You’ve lost something. You are searching frantically, your mind racing. You feel stressed. Then you give up. Later, when your mind has gone from running to jogging, you remember where the thing is. Or you wisely sit down to think about where you last saw it, and in that quieter state you remember.
Maybe you can’t remember a name, try as you may, but later when you’re quiet—by my analogy you would be standing not running—it comes to mind. Maybe you’re trying to solve a problem, but when you’re more relaxed, “sitting,” you find the solution. You are doing something creative, then quit, feeling tired. You “lie down,” figuratively and literally, so that in the middle of the night, your mind relatively still, you have a creative insight. Many creative people report their best ideas coming in the night, in dreams even, or when they are just taking time off away from their work.
If, before charging into action, a person just reflects a bit (using a quieter mind), as HSPs do by nature, their actions are likely to be wiser. When we HSPs seem to act quickly, often we have previously reflected on the same type of situation, so that our quick action will still be based on previous quiet thought. This is in fact our survival strategy, pure and simple: Observe and reflect before acting. “Look before you leap.” “The farther you pull the arrow back, the farther it will fly.” But everyone, HSP or not, can improve their actions, and their chances of survival, if they just take the time to settle down and think. (If only more people actually did.)
What If We Go Deeper Still
Let’s go deeper. If everyone at their work or at school sat down, closed their eyes, and were silent for 10 minutes each day, whatever they did in that silence, you can probably imagine the good effect. Deeper still, many find silent prayer or contemplation extremely useful. And there is meditation, the route I have used for 46 years. I chose Transcendental Meditation, partly because its goal is the deepest possible rest and inner silence (well beyond “thinking a mantra”). Any meditation, however, or any deliberate method of turning inwards to find that deeper quiet, has its degrees.
How deep I go in meditation depends on how busy or stressful my outer life has been that day. Any amount deeper helps quiet the mind, so I believe all of my meditations are “good.” But they do vary. Suppose I rated my meditations from 1, very deep, to 10, rather shallow because of a high level of stress during the day resulting in many thoughts and feelings, or distracting stimulation nearby. At home, at peace already, I might go from 3 to 1. Very nice. But in a way, when I’m stressed, going from 10 to 7 feels more valuable.
For example, I recall meditating as best I could while standing in a crowded subway car after it had stopped mid-station and the lights had gone out. Or meditating in a hot airplane stuck on the tarmac for two hours. As time passed in both of these situations, people became anxious or angry.
To help me stay calm, I meditated, again moving me only from 10 to maybe nine on the inner silence scale, especially the time I was standing in the subway! But I could tell that this “nine” remarkably helped not only me but those near me as well. Maybe this is over generalizing, but think of how much better the world would be if HSPs regularly did whatever they chose to do to instill inner silence into the atmosphere.
There’s nothing new about this. In every time and tradition, people have entered inner silence for the purpose of helping the world as well as themselves. Sometimes people choose a life style of inner quiet, as in a monastery. Or they seriously devote a healthy portion of their life to cultivating inner silence, even while also engaged in the world. It is quite possible to do. Indeed, the time spent often is made up for by feeling fresh, tranquil, and efficient when you do work.
Whatever the tradition, those committed to these deeper levels of inner silence and calm report at its deepest the same satisfying state (I could supply you with dozens of quotes), perhaps best called “pure consciousness” because it can be without thoughts, feelings, or perceptions. Yet you are wide awake inside.
Some experience it as a “brilliant darkness” or the “palace of nowhere.” Although one can reduce the experience to a mere pattern of brain activation (and a very useful one), those who experience it repeatedly associate it with various ultimates beyond description, such as God, Allah, Brahman, the Absolute, or the Ground of Being.
A friend of mine and comparative religion scholar, Robert Forman, likens the universality of this experience to astronauts taking off in different rockets from all over the world, and once they reach outer space, they all experience weightlessness. However they describe weightlessness, same state. In the case of pure consciousness, these inner explorers also seem to find the same state.