All different kinds of patients present to me looking for Chinese Medicine to provide a quick fix answer to their latest health challenge. I explain to them there is no quick fix (surprise!) and more often than not they walk away with homework to do. One such exercise I assign them is to take 5 minutes of every day until their next visit to be in silence. This doesn’t mean they have to be sitting still; it could be in the form of a walking meditation, a mindless task, just before dozing off, any 5 random minutes will do. And in those 5 minutes of silence, they ask no questions, they look for no answers; they’re tasked with “just Be”. Most find this very difficult. Many can’t even make the time. Several feel guilty when they do. By day 4, they report they start to anticipate taking the 5 minutes. At the end of the 1st week - on their own accord - they add another 2 minutes. By day 10 they smile going into their 5 minutes, and beam coming out. They thank me profusely on their next visit, and then they get another silent task – I call this “Grasshopper Training”.
Grasshopper Training came about when I was growing up in New York City. We learned to not stare at people on the train; instead, with our eyes closed we listened for the energy, emotions and unspoken words behind the conversations around us. With our eyes closed we noticed the smells, felt the rhythm of the train tracks, and imagined how that hoagie, pizza slice or knish the guy 2 seats over was having for lunch actually tasted. In Grasshopper Training, my patients now are instructed to take those 5 minutes & be active in the silence. In this silence, they cannot listen to their minds’ chatter; instead they now must discern the sounds around them: that chirp or tweet – is it of a cardinal, blue jay, crow, mocking bird or dove? Is it a blue jay mocking a mockingbird or a mockingbird mocking the blue jay? Is that helicopter zipping by overhead our local Coast Guard, news station or Trauma Center? Just before the afternoon thunderstorms pop up, can they hear the change in the pattern of the wind, the silence of the birds, or that sudden stillness just before the rains begin? They leave flabbergasted at the impossibility of the task, but then I get an email or phone call excitedly telling me about their latest accomplishment or discovery. I share this now with you hoping that you too will take the time to make this your practice, and that you too can find the benefits of being still. One of my favorite passages from the Bible offers this counsel: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). I am a very busy, Type-A personality who used to stop when it was time to sleep. Now I like being still. Being still is the grownup’s time-out, except this is a treat, not a punishment. My perspective shifts, I’m like a new person, and I always feel better after 5 minutes of silence. My 5 minutes now can involve cloud watching, listening to fishes swim in the koi pond at our local Sunken Gardens, watching a slug leave its shimmery trail, or a lizard breathing in the heat of the sun.
When you come to me for an acupuncture treatment, somewhere between when I first put the needles in and when you catch yourself snoring, you too will have those 5 minutes of silence. This is where you let down your guard, you release all expectations, and your mind gives up control of writing your body’s agenda. It is in this silence that the Healing begins. What is your experience with silence? If you currently have no similar self-care routine, I invite you now to give yourself a 5 minute gift of silence. Try my Grasshopper Training exercise above for a week and then let me know how it goes (comment below or shoot me an email). I now give you permission to hum along in your mind’s eye the tune of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” as noted below. Om Shantï!
Audrey Steele, Acupuncture Physician
"The Sound Of Silence"
(Simon & Garfunkel)
Hello darkness, my old friend,
I've come to talk with you again,
Because a vision softly creeping,
Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Within the sound of silence.
In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone,
'Neath the halo of a street lamp,
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence.
And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more.
People talking without speaking,
People hearing without listening,
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence.
"Fools," said I, "You do not know –
Silence like a cancer grows.
Hear my words that I might teach you.
Take my arms that I might reach you."
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence
And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made.
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming.
And the sign said, The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sound of silence.