Inward Bound


Sarah McLean is the director of Sedona Meditation Training & Retreats and is certified and recommended by Dr. Deepak Chopra. She can be reached via e-mail at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , phone at 928-204-0067 or fax at 866-654-1705. You can also visit online at


Monday, 19 April 2010 00:00    E-mail
Silence is Golden: The Practice of Noble Silence

I love to get up early and go outside, especially in the spring.  Sometimes there is no breeze and the delicate peach and plum trees and their blossoms stand as silent and unmoving as the red rocks. Silence is always refreshing.

I love the early mornings before the jeeps start to crawl through the forests, or the helicopters hover above the wilderness.  As I walk closer to the trees, the sound emerged of the bees buzzing in the blossoms.

After a few minutes, the finches serenade me as I head back into the house, I hear them along with the sound of my breath and my feet as I walk.  Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Let us be silent that we may hear the whispers of the gods.”

Silence can be hard to come by and easy to avoid these days. We all are busy.  As a remedy to the rampant noise and distraction, some people practice meditation in activity, in the form of mindfulness, a discipline of being fully present while doing just one thing.

During the years I lived in the meditation-training center, we were mindful in meditation and in activity.

We also spent many days in silence during the week- and month-long retreats. I would eat, cook, work and meditate in silence.

Sometimes called Noble Silence, this practice helps to settle down distracting thoughts and experience what I am actually experiencing.

Practicing Noble Silence means making a commitment to being in silence.  You take a certain amount of time to withdraw from the activity of speech and communication of any kind, and avoid entertainment such as listening to music or the radio, watching television or movies or reading.

Why? These activities capture your attention, and direct it outward. In contrast, silence is a process of turning your attention inward and simply being.  When beginning the practice, you might notice your internal dialogue becomes even more turbulent, sometimes referred to as “monkey mind.”

Some people begin to feel an intense need to say or communicate just about anything, even “thank you,” “please” or “sorry.”

A sense of urgency or anxiety may come up or they may get fixated on a thought. When we stay with the practice, the internal dialogue about the past, the future and the inner commentary about life and what surrounds us begins to settle.

Maybe the mind gives up; perhaps it figures there’s no point in going around and around if you’re not going to speak, period.

As the internal dialogue slows down you will begin to experience the stillness of the present moment, the here, the now.  You might experience that you’re more of a human “being” rather than a human “doing,” as you witness your actions and thoughts in this silence.

Who is this witness? Who are you really? Silence helps you to realize your true, expanded self.

It also provides an opportunity to commune with yourself and hear a wiser voice, perhaps it’s intuition or perhaps it’s the whispers of the gods that Emerson was referring to.

Could you spend a day or part of a day in silence? Decide when to take the time off, let your loved ones know, and take a vow of silence.

Remind them you are not ignoring them, you will be speaking to them again. Turn off your TV, cell phone and home phone, take a day off from the computer and electronics, don’t listen to music or read.

Don’t speak or write to anyone, don’t make wild gestures to communicate with your family. Instead, be with yourself, turn your attention inward with the intention to get to know yourself.

Experience yourself and the sensations as you walk, cook, eat, shower and meditate.  Closely pay attention to what you see, touch, taste, smell and hear.  Be the witness to your internal and external.  This practice will help you to be fully present to your life, one moment after another.

Another way to experience silence is to give yourself some time in nature. And no, the walk from your front door to the car, or from your car to the entrance of the grocery store doesn’t count.

Most of us spend most of our time indoors, focused on the busyness of our lives and disconnected from the earth and nature. But much of what we truly need can only be found under the naked sky, alongside red rocks, on paths through the forest, or by the creek with our cell phone turned off and without our iPods.

Sometimes taking a walk in the evening as the sun sets or feeling the wind on your face may be all that’s needed to reconnect with nature and ourselves.  Being in the natural world can calm the mind and emotions, and helps us let go of mental stress. We are as much a part of nature as are the leaves on a tree or the birds.

Silence, like being in nature, is a practice that helps us to discover who we really are, that we are each whole, peaceful and perfect.

It helps us to relieve stress and a perfect way to shift our perception as it allows us to see the world as happening for us rather than happening to us.

Monday, 01 March 2010 00:00    E-mail
Learn to love yourself as you love your neighbor

Download this article pdf: Inward_Bound_EO-0310.pdf

This is that time of year, time to be in love, fall in love and appreciate the love that exists in your life. I am reminded of the “Love thy neighbor as thyself” commandment.

Being kind and generous to others is rewarded. It’s even said in the yoga tradition that the path of service, or karma yoga, can lead to enlightenment.

I don’t doubt that, but why is it that flight attendants have to remind us to put our own oxygen mask on in an emergency before we help others? Could it be we forget to take care of ourselves in the name of service?

Let’s look at this commandment more closely: Love thy neighbor as thyself. Perhaps we have to start with loving ourselves. How do you love yourself?

Sometimes when people come to learn to meditate we take a look at how they treat themselves. Every one of us has thoughts in meditation or sometimes drift off in a daydream, but there are some students that are so hard on themselves when this happens—getting angry or frustrated with themselves—a habit they’ve fallen into as a way to make themselves do it right.

Some people simply believe they can’t do it at all, or that there is something inherently wrong with them. Of course they can meditate, I remind them. I’ve never yet met someone who can’t.

Learn to love yourself as  you love your neighbor I suggest that they practice being sweet to themselves, in and out of meditation. And by sweet, I don’t mean buying a new outfit or an ice cream, I mean actually being kind to yourself, and paying attention to yourself.

Maybe you’ve forgotten your own inner loveliness. You are wise, you are kind, you are aware and you know what is good for you on a very basic level.

Being unkind to ourselves can simply be an old habit. It might come up that someone stays in a relationship that isn’t nourishing, or they say nasty things to themselves when they look in the mirror, or don’t take good care of their body, or don’t listen to their own inner wisdom.

What if we treated our neighbor based on the ways that we sometimes treat (or loved) ourselves? We’d ignore them, say nasty things about them, or not care about them in some way. You see how that goes?

How we treat ourselves can inform everything we say or do. We have to become aware of it first, we each have to expand our awareness. I’ve written about really listening to yourself, discovering your intuition, asking yourself what you really want, living in tune with nature, beginning your meditation practice and remembering to be grateful.

But it all comes down to loving one’s self—which is often more difficult than it sounds. That’s why, last spring, my dear friend and retreat leader Kathy Zavada and I developed a retreat that focuses on cultivating self love: The Heart Opening Retreat, held in May in South Lake Tahoe.

There is a Buddhist medita•tion practice known as Loving Kindness (You don’t have to be Buddhist to do it.) It has the immediate benefit of sweetening and changing old habituated negative patterns of mind. In this simple practice, begin with truly experiencing love for yourself, and from there, meditate on kindness to others.

It goes like this:

• Sit down and relax your body.

• Bring your attention to your heart center, place your hand there gently if you’d like.

• Take some time to cultivate a warm and gentle feeling for yourself.

• Say some sweet things to yourself, silently with a sense of kindness and warmth (see some examples below.)

• Notice how your heart and mind respond. There is no need to hurry.

• Experience your heart slowly fill with the warmth and bliss of your own lov•ing intention. After you give yourself the attention, send the intention for all beings to be well and free from suffering.

Take three breaths through your nose, deeper than normal, and come back to yourself and the environment you are sitting in.

Keep your eyes closed for a few minutes and enjoy for a few moments your state of being.

Here are some intentions I use, choose one that resonates with you, or come up with your own:

• May I be filled with loving kindness. May I be peaceful and at ease. May I be free from suffering. May I be at peace.

• I am safe. I am cared for. I am loved and all is well.

• May I become an intimate, kind and friendly force for myself and be intimate with my life and all of life.

• May I be completely present in my own life.

• May I know and experience God fully.

• I accept myself exactly as I am and as I am not.

• May I remember the universal kindness that surrounds me at every moment.

• There is no one on Earth who is more deserving of my love than me.

• May I be on my own side and not betray myself.

• The more I practice Loving Kindness, the more I learn to know myself as a person capable of warmth, of sweetness, of love and a peaceful response to life. I trust myself more and have more to give. Each act of kindness to others then becomes an act of gentle•ness to myself and to my own spirit.



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