The idea of a Year of Silence was hardly new to me when I began thinking to take it up, last year. The practice, although uncommon, is very old and widespread. Many monks and fakirs and yogis have gone through extended periods of silence over the ages. Layperson have spontaneously taken to the process. In recent times, Meher Baba, an Indian mystic of Persian descent, gave up talking for 44 years and became a leader and teacher of thousands in the second half of the last century. Some consider Meher Baba an avatar.
But what tripped the switch for me, besides gradually spending more time in meditation in recent years, was to read a book on the life of Apollonius of Tyana (first century AD). Following in a pattern set by the even greater sage, Pythagoras (c 570-500 BC), Apollonius eventually became a renowned teacher.
Students committed to the teachings of Pythagoras were expected to spend two to five years practicing silence. Philostratus says that Apollonius completed five years completely mute while learning “to maintain a conversation by the expression of his eyes, by gestures of hand and nodding his head.”
Through his disciplines, he was also able to say, “I understand all languages, though I never learnt one.”
Apollonius traveled Asia Minor and studied and taught with the elite of the times in many countries as far as India. Some thought he would die at the hands of Nero and others whom he threatened by his mere presence in a country. All that even though he never offered a political message, but rather taught truth as he had discovered it.
The passage of years in silence at an early age surely helped set the stage for his entry into deeper awareness and knowledge. Apollonius has been favorably compared with Jesus of Nazareth many times over the ages for his feats of casting out demons, healing the sick and performing so-called miracles. Apollonius is reputed to have lived past the age of 100 on a diet largely of vegetables, fruit and honey.
The following books read during my Year of Silence come from more modern times than the ancient Greeks. You will see that they all are related to silence.
Planetwalker was written and lived by John Francis. Francis is a one-of-a-kind American who took to walking to make a statement about fossil fuels, oil spills and the like. Eventually, he added silence to his curriculum vitae as he began a long, long trek across the USA. Before returning to speech and using automotive transportation, Francis kept silence for 17 years and walked for 22 years. His tale is very engaging. But, he never explains how he paid his bills.
The Mountain of Silence is one of several books I have read by Kyriacos Markides, a sociology professor who teaches in the USA but hails from Cyprus. This book tells about the rejuvenation of Greek Orthodox religion through the work of Father Maximos in building monasteries and church communities on the island. Orthodox spirituality came to life for Markides and did for me as well. I recommend this book along with two others by the author: The Magus of Stravolos and Fire in the Heart. The latter are narratives on works of a modern-day Cypriot magician.
The Voice of the Silence by Oonagh Shanly-Toffolo attracted me because of the title and the subtitle: The Remarkable Story of Princess Diana’s Spiritual Guide. The author led a fine life and wrote a worthy book. But, the focus of Silence faded quickly as she left her work as a sister and nurse to marry and live in the ordinary world. She counseled Lady Diana after caring for the Duke of Windsor in his latter days. Oonagh revealed more about the latter than the former royal. The titling was a little misleading.
The Voice of the Silence by Helena Blavatsky is a wonderful little book translated from an ancient east Indian tongue. Though small, it is a book of great depth and reveals layers of meaning when read and re-read over the years. I highly recommend it for all who consider themselves on a spiritual path.
Spiritual Reading relates to the work of meditation of which I have increasingly involved myself. I started forty-some years ago and now regularly spend two to three hours a day silently practicing meditation. I do not say I meditate. I am still practicing, but am making some progress.
One way to look at meditation is as listening for the small, still voice and/or endeavoring to perceive the “thoughts of God - the Higher Self.” Spiritual Reading is one of three aspects of inner work which I understand we all will be called to do one day. I thereby suggest that we all live many, many lifetimes.
Besides Spiritual Reading, we are also called to devotion to the Christ/Buddhic principle (called Ishvara in the East) and fiery aspiration which includes the call to serve others.
1) Spiritual Reading or Meditation.
2) Devotion to the Higher Self.
3) Fiery Aspiration which manifests in Service.
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