The sound of silence

Last night I was explaining to my son about the myriad traditions, where silence blooms and blossoms with particular kinds of energy. For example, there is the silence of a ship that stops on a still fjord, where everyone falls into a wondering hush – before someone breaks it because they are so unused to this; the silence of the quakers, when they are ‘gathered’, then someone might speak and from those words action might come. Then there is the silence of the heartfulness practice where the focus is on the heart and where this shared space permits a communication to flow through the whole group, after which what is learned is written down and kept private.

The conversation came up because it was a Sunday, and I had spent some time with a group of meditators, who asked each other the question of what we intended to get out of a 30 day challenge. However, more specifically, this is a group of meditation trainers, and I’ve been out of the loop for several years. I was very generously given permission to join the group, even though I am not practicing as trainer. The absence of several years created a gap between me and the practice that I once loved very deeply. Maybe it is because this that my question is not about ‘how can I improve?’, but ‘what is the mandate of this practice for society?’. What does this practice bring to this particular time and place? It is only in answering this question that I can understand whether and how I might be a teacher. I need to test the practice for how it enacts social justice, for its way of reaching beyond one culture into others. I wonder whether this practice is bounded by a culture in a way that is impermeable to the questions that come from being in Australia.

Most groups and practices are framed by particular ways of saying, doing and relating (Kemmis). This meditation practice is one that comes from India, so what is said in the ‘saying’ is deeply respectful and conscribed by the specific language of the practice. It uses words like ‘absentia’ ‘regular practice’. What is done in the ‘doing’ is conscribed by sitting and meditating, and occasionally going on a jaunt to India, making regular donations, and an incredibly generous discipline of sitting to meditate with all comers. How relationships are formed through ‘relating’ is through the experience of sharing a silent field together, with one person leading that field and holding a gentle intention of deepening and clearing the field for the other. Sometimes this is done in pairs, and sometimes it is done in groups. The other relationship that is visible in all aspects of the practice is with a spiritual master, a guru who has inherited a practice that is now four generations deep.

So, the question that arises is about the intersection between this mediation practice and the invitation that all people who arrive in Australia are given. It is about how do we approach and honour the Aboriginal people and the land in this time and context. It seems extremely tricky, but given the 60,000 years of habitation there is a strong sense that there is a relationship to be formed. There is something about the invitation to be in Australia that asks me to take Aboriginal people into account no matter what else I do.

It is helpful to consider the symbolism of what Maori do in the powhiri (welcoming ceremony). In that call and response, there is a specific invitation to figure out together who and what the visitor represents – are they friend or fo?. The hosts need to know what the visitors are bringing in; the visitors need to know what they are engaging with. This is what I am doing here in my mind. I am setting up a call and response with the Indigenous people. Therefore, I ask the question -does the practice of this specific meditation practice bring something that could enrich this specific time and place and people ? How does doing this practice potentially honour the Aboriginal people? Does it bring something good that they might benefit from? It is at the point of arrival that we see most clearly what is here to be respected. This is the time to articulate, no matter how much of a raw beginner one feels

People talk about the epistemological abyss between ‘dominant’ and ‘Indigenous’ cultures. But there are many ways of bridging difference. One of the most powerful of these is silence. By sitting in silence we can make a start with a strong intention. The silence brings an authenticity and gathers together the sinews of our being. There is no arguing with silence. There are words that disrupt it, but it is a practice that transcends traditions. It’s not a simple thing, because there are so many different practices and ways, but it is a uniting practice

In answer to my question. Can a meditation practice from India inform how I approach an understanding of the origins of this country? I think that it can, but only if I keep the question in mind. I need to understand that each practice and choice is done in relation to the people of this place. I have been welcomed to be here, and I need to hold myself and my practices in a respectful space as I approach what this place has to offer.


Mahon, K., Francisco, S., Kemmis, S., & Editors, S. (2017). Exploring Education and Professional Practice: Through the Lens of Practice Architectures: Springer.

Kemmis, S. and Grootenboer, P., 2008. Situating praxis in practice: practice architectures and the cultural, social and material conditions for practice. In: S. Kemmis and T. Smith, eds. Enabling praxis: challenges for education. Rotterdam: Sense, 37–64.