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​​Why Do We Need Mental Silence?

Our head lives on a permanent rampage. If someone asked us off guard about what we are thinking, responses would include such things as 'nonsense', 'the troubles I have now', 'nothing' or 'I was up in the clouds'. The indulgent indifferent simplistic thoughts are harmless, except when we do not see the hole in the walkway.

In contrast, mental obfuscations, as resentment, remorse or anguish, take us to grumbling, denigrating or complaining about minor, misleading or unsolvable problems. Indeed we need breaks of mental silence and careful examination of the endless flutter in our head. We will soon realize that, like the naughty children, the restless mind calms down when we watch its motions.

The most expeditious way to train us in self-observation is mindfulness meditation. Its benefits, already proven in numerous studies, range from elimination of migraines, increases in pain threshold, and control of insomnia problems, up to changes in how some brain regions communicate with each other and volume growth in some areas. Most important, these latter changes lead to favorable developments in the very way we think.

Notwithstanding the magnitude of these successes, the most important benefit of mindfulness meditation is the strengthening of our ability to concentrate. Surprisingly, in spite of such remarkable advantages together, the percentage of people who meditate regularly is below ten percent, figure this that includes all the common approaches to meditation (mindfulness meditation, raja yoga, transcendental, zen, tai chi...).

There is a partial explanation for this paradox in the complexity of our attention function. Our brain seems to be designed more for mental wanderings and noises than for stillness and silence. According to research on the subject, during around thirty per cent of our waking hours we are thinking of things unconnected from what we are doing. Even while reading, an activity that requires high concentration, we are wandering fifteen to twenty percent of the time.

​Mindfulness meditation is the technique that corrects such 'design' fault. When we practice it regularly, then we will manage to focus our mind and silence its noises. This is positively achievable (plenty of people have done it) but, for most everybody, it demands much discipline… Or a calamity. I am under the impression that for most people to undertake the practice of meditation they need the push of a complicated physical or emotional problem. This should not be so.​

Frequently people ask about where I am in my path toward silence. The nosy ones commonly do not sympathize with my answer. The description of the progress on this road is useless for someone other than the traveler. The presence or absence of suffering are real only for those who are living them; 'I' am the only one who can get something out of 'my' experiences, 'I' am the only one who can observe such experiences. "Do not go by what other recommend," says the Buddha. "When you know for yourself what practices, when used, lead to well-being and harmony, only then you should imitate such practices and make a habit out of them."

Are there alternatives to mindfulness meditation? We know well that intense exercise is important for health. If we cannot jog because of troubles with our knees, we may do brisk walks as an alternative exercise. If we cannot meditate due to time constraints or lack of a quiet spot at home, we may do other things that lower the volume of our mental noises (yoga, listening to classical music, silent prayer...) even if such habits do not completely stifle the turmoil in our head.

A volatile mind is not an excuse for doing nothing. We must never give up and should always maintain open the option of mindfulness meditation. When we finally enjoy mindfulness, through the continuous practice of meditation, we shall learn that, in our spiritual quest, we should have not moved around so much. Single-handedly, with the careful observation of our body, our sensations and our mental states, we will arrive, sooner than thought, at the 'there' from which  never we should have run away. And one additional remark: When we get 'there', we will always note the hole in the walkway.

Gustavo Estrada
Atlanta, December 20, 2015