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The importance of silence
On November 20, The School of Philosophy, Trinidad will be hosting the local leg of Just This Day—an international day dedicated to silence and stillness. Just This Day is in its seventh year and was first organised by St Martin-in-the-fields Church in London, England.
In T&T, the day will be recognised with various silent observations and meditations. The event is just one example of a growing trend both locally and internationally towards using meditation as a tool for well-being.
An article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper last month said meditation was increasingly being studied and discussed in medical circles. The article said some research has linked meditation to heightening the effectiveness of vaccines to healthier brain activity. The findings of a recent study published in the Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine found transcendental meditation to be a more effective treatment of anxiety.
Last month, yoga and meditation classes were offered free of charge to Australian Commonwealth public servants as part of a new health and wellness programme. Hotels like the Ritz-Carlton Reserve in Thailand offer packages like Paradise in Balance, which includes daily, private meditation with a Buddhist monk as well as yoga classes.
Meditation is traditionally linked to religious practice, particularly Buddhism and Hinduism. However, there are many faiths in which meditation is encouraged and practiced. Yet, as meditation becomes more mainstream, those who are not interested in the religiosity of the practice have coined other labels for it such as mindfulness.
Joanne Johnson of the School of Philosophy Trinidad said the focus of Just This Day was not religion, but the “innate quality of silence and stillness which all philosophers have spoken about for eons.” The Just This Day events will be held at churches/spaces of various denominations.
Monk Rinchen Blake will be leading one of the Just This Day sessions on November 20. He has been practicing meditation since the 1970s and trained to be a monk in the late 1980s. Blake, who is originally from England, said he has noticed the growing popularity of meditation both in the UK and in T&T. Blake has been working with prisoners and recovering drug addicts in the Caribbean for over 20 years. He believes meditation is a very important tool in his work. “If you've committed a crime, you normally do that because you feel emotionally angry or your mind is a little distressed,” he said in a telephone interview.
“If you train the mind to be content, you just don't feel like it. There was a guy I was teaching at a half-way house in Antigua who said, “When you're in this meditation, you can't do violence can you?” And he was so right. Harming others becomes of no interest to you.”
Blake also operates a meditation centre in Cascade, Port-of-Spain. He believes that mindfulness can help people get through stressful situations, particularly in busy cities like Port-of-Spain.
“When you bring mediation, which is training the mind, into daily life its called mindfulness. It might sound about bit pedestrian in one way or another, but instead of being caught up in your thoughts or feelings or worries or anxieties, you give yourself a holiday from and focus on the activity at hand. You feel more content afterwards,” he said.
As much as meditation is part of the Buddhist and Hindu traditions, it is also part of the Christian tradition. According to the Rev John Pereria, the Abbot of Mount St Benedict, meditation is a “way of allowing the word of God to gel within you.” In a telephone interview, he said that meditation is practiced in particular by the Benedictine monks, but parishioners are also encouraged to use this tool. “Actually, the first word in the rule of St Benedict is listen and that is an essential part of the spirituality of the Benediction monk. In order to listen you must have a certain ambiance. Silence is an essential part of the spirituality of the Christian monk and it helps to create a climate whereby the word of God can be absorbed.”
The organisers of the local Just This Day are emphasising the power of silence on its own, however, as opposed to a specific religious benefit. According to Johnson, “The power or silence transcends differences, belongs to no one and is accessible to everyone. It can heal, nurture and unify.” She added, “What if we practiced this collectively for one day, in our own times and ways? Letting go all our debates, and talk, forgoing all our ideas of differences, and finding ourselves simply present to the reality of the moment - we would find ourselves in community, communicating in unity, in the community that is silent, yet communicating what is truly vital in life.”
To find out more about Just This Day, Trinidad find them on Facebook under: Just This Day, Trinidad. Or visit the host Web site: www.schoolofphilosophy.org.tt Or by phone at: 652-5340
Below is a list of the events on 20 November. The School of Philosophy is also inviting people to participate in moments of silence throughout the day in their work places, schools and homes.
Events planned for Just This Day
8 to 9 am - Walking into Stillness with Monk Rinchen Blake at the Botanical Gardens, Port-of-Spain
Noon to 1 pm - Guided into Silence at the Raj Yoga Centre Sackville St, Port-of-Spain
5 pm to 6.30 pm - Journey into Silence and Stillness with labyrinth walking at the Holy Trinity Cathedral, Abercromby Street, Port-of-Spain