Coming from a Hindu family, I’ve always been in and out of food fasting rituals. And I have to admit that I first gained a sense of the power of silence doing something unrelated to my culture. While watching Julia Robert’s movie, Love, Prey, Eat! In 2020, I was influenced by my sister-in-law to actually try it out for myself. And from that, comes this post for you.
As I revisit this post for the second time, having completed a 50-hour intense silence retreat, I am adding more valuable insights from my teacher’s guidance to help make this article more resourceful to you.
What is a Maun Vrat?
Maun is a Hindi word which means silence. And Vrat means fasting. This is the literal meaning – to keep a vow of silence.
This entails completely unplugging and retracting from the world, to go inwards. Kind of like hanging a “closed for spiritual maintenance” sign outside your door, like the one below!
It is similar to meditation, but is not limited to closing your eyes for the whole period. Based on how you choose to execute this vow, you can add many self-reflecting aspects to your practice. I’ll be talking more about that in upcoming sections.
The idea of observing silence is ancient, and continues to be practiced by different groups around the world. But what is the purpose?
Let’s first talk about the benefit of any kind of fasting or vows.
When we practice conscious self-restraint, we begin to understand how dependent we are on the external. So, for example, when you do a food fast, here are a couple of observations you might make.
- You eat way more than you need to.
- Sometimes, you mindlessly pick up snacks or go to the fridge to clear a can.
- A lot of your time is spent in thinking about food, eating food, preparing food, etc.
- When you don’t eat, it becomes easier for you to get emotionally triggered and be short-tempered.
- If you fast long enough, once you do eat, you eat more mindfully and you end up eating less.
In the past couple of centuries, in a religious sense, fasting has become about pleasing God and getting your wishes to come true. As Conversations with God shows us, that isn’t needed. God isn’t conditional in his love. The fasting is more for you, than for the eternal, infinite Universe.
And in the new age, food fasting is often promoted as a good detox for the body. That is only a partial benefit of it. However, there’s a much deeper psychological change that unfolds when you stick to the practice.
And the same holds true for a maun vrat. You only experience the power of silence, once you put it into practice for hours at a stretch.
For instance, one of the benefits is experiencing a dopamine reset – being able to create more “pause” between your addictive and reactive tendencies. I love this video below that explains the physiological importance of a dopamine fast, when we’re in such an overstimulated world that has made it very difficult for us to experience stillness.
I find that observing silence is a great way to take care of the overdose of dopamine in our system, amongst other things.
Another benefit of conscious quiet time is really giving yourself permission to just BE.
A silence retreat, when done well, is able to invite your feminine energy out to play. It gives us a chance to stop hustling and give rest to the overworked aspects of our masculine energy. This helps create what I call, inner union.
While it’s important to be a go-getter and make the most of your time here on Earth, the practice of conscious silence is a beautiful reminder to help us see the importance of letting go and observing the Universe unfold. It’s an invitation to be in a space of stillness, one that brews gratitude, humility and brings the ego-mind in check by helping us see that there’s so much more to life than just our agenda.
And just like that there are many, many other rewards you can reap by doing frequent silence retreats, which I’m going to invite you to discover through your own practice. I also share my observations as I walk you through the steps for a maun vrat, in the section below.
My focus now is to share more details about what happens when you do a silence retreat as a beginner, including the challenges, so that you’re set up for success. Here are the different stages and ideas for each level of silence.
The Four Stages of a Maun Vrat & the Benefits of Observing Silence
First, let’s walk through the different stages of observing silence, and the benefits you reap as you pass through each stage.
Stage 1: Getting Started
Getting started with the maun vrat is as easy as dropping everything you’re doing and just sitting still, in silence. You may or may not choose to start with meditation.
When getting started, it can help you to focus on the breath, or on just observing your environment. You’ll be surprised how little attention we pay to the places we are frequently in. This is a great time to reorient yourself in your own energy and space.
In the first couple minutes of silence, you might find yourself scrambling to sit quietly and just ‘be’. It might even drive you crazy to realize how many thoughts are coming and going. You might find yourself reaching out to grab an object around you, or scratch a phantom itch on your body.
If you’ve been a meditator for a while, it could in contrast be easier. Either way, overtime, your body will get acclimatized and want to move less.
As you notice your energy slowing down and settling in, the first benefit unveils itself. You are beginning to calm down at a physical level. And your inner ‘fidget spinner’ is beginning to slow down.
As my spiritual teacher taught us, this is only the initial (but crucial) layer that has been covering your soul. When you can still your body and relax the breath without getting identified with them, you are able to be with your thoughts in a more focused way.
This technique of uncovering layers is called panchkosha viveka in Sanskrit, which translates to overcoming the illusions and coverings to witness the soul. You can read more about the different layers in this substantial article.
And if you persevere from a few minutes of sitting still, into around the half-hour mark, you’re likely to enter stage 2.
Stage 2: Lethargy
Eventually, as you keep observing silence, you may find the slumber phase arising. Your physical body is slowing down, and your heartbeat is as well. So, the mind may get a cue to shut down the conscious and take a nap.
One of two things can happen.
You will either fall asleep and wake up afresh, probably putting you back into stage 1.
Or, you will redirect this cue, and use it to enter a state of self-guided meditation (called self-hypnosis) and introspection. As that happens, you will enter stage 3.
Before we go to the next stage however, I want to touch upon this need for sleep. For most of us, the only time we allow ourselves to slow down is when we sleep. So, that’s the idea our mind will get when you relax your body so much. Then, it’s just about training the mind to understand this type of relaxation as a means to go deeper into self-awareness, and not as an indication to sleep.
Having normalized that, let’s talk about going deeper in the next stage.
Stage 3: Going Deep
This is the best part of observing silence, when you start making breakthroughs! I have a couple of tips lined up in the next section to help get you here faster. And once you do, here’s what to expect.
This is the perfect time to reflect on one’s karmic programming, to reflect on the different patterns that have led you here in life. It also becomes interesting to observe your body and the environment, purely from the angle of an observer.
You may find yourself rolling your neck and involuntary yawning as the body resists stage 2’s lethargy. Sometimes that yawn is actually just one of many weird ways the body is releasing old energy.
Sometimes instead of feeling sleepy, your mind may become active again and start racing with a different kind of energy – like bringing new insights to you to help you clean your actions. All of this is completely normal.
Just practice bringing stillness to the body again and slowing down your breath. Chances are that a memory or thought has triggered your nervous system and this “waking up” is your survival brain trying to help you fight off any threats. Here, self-regulation practices are super helpful to bring your mind into a feeling of safety again.
As you go deeper into self-introspection, it can be helpful to keep a notebook nearby and take quick notes (but not necessarily writing paragraphs) about your AHA moments.
In some silence periods, I’ve added certain dots about my behaviour that have left me humbled and brought back my focus on self-development versus finding fault in others.
By going deeper, it means you don’t want to stop at processing the subconscious or unconscious level thoughts. You want to guide yourself to ask even deeper questions about life, your purpose, your soul’s trajectory and so forth.
And then, as you sustain this momentum, to eventually reflect on the ego (the last layer covering your soul). Reflect and witness the dualistic nature, and gently move yourself beyond it.
Here, you will experience true SILENCE. This, my friend, is your soul.
Of course, this practice is the deepest introspection and it takes eons for us seekers to attain this enlightened awareness. But with one steady step at a time, and with repetition, you can detach from the outer layers, to fully embody your spirit.
Stage 4: Coming full circle.
You may waiver between the first three stages throughout the period of silence, which is pretty normal. Eventually, when you’ve reached a limit (maybe time, or just energetically), bring your practice to a full circle.
Without sounding too ritualistic, it is still important to maintain a decorum as you slowly come out of your silent period.
Instead of jumping to check your phone or calling a friend to talk about how awesome the silence was, try to extend the silence into day-to-day activities.
Some tips include –
- going for quiet walks, without music or a friend,
- eating a mindful meal and not watching the TV,
- cleaning up your space and giving thanks to the surroundings for facilitating your quietude.
Allow yourself to carry that calmness into your day for as long as you can. Of course, your environment might not always be conducive to this, but see if you can do small things that prevent you from jumping right back into the routine.
Ultimately our goal should be to maintain an inner silence and peace, regardless of how chaotic or fast-moving the world around us is.
5 Tips to Deepen Your Experience of the Power of Silence
#1 – Reduce Distractions.
When we’re initially striving to create inner silence, it helps to start with outer silence – meaning an environment that supports your intentions. So, it goes without saying that you should NOT have a phone ringing near you, nor should you be using Facebook.
However, distraction can also come from the inanimate objects around you. For example, I use my workspace to practice my quietude, and initially found myself wanting to pick up a book to read, or to write down a task that I would do for the blog once this period of silence was over. This was taking me away from the intention of unconditionally being with myself.
Of course, there’s no need to judge ourselves or feel critical towards ourselves for feeling distracted. The truth is that the mind will do everything it can to escape the present moment.
Whether it’s because the present moment was too daunting for us as a child (abuse, overwhelm, underwhelm, boredom, etc) or we grew up being taught that being head-heady is a good thing, the mind can feel an initial shock when you’re trying to do nothing.
So keep observing the ways in which it gets distracted and start eliminating those distractions.
At the end of each maun vrat, I have made it a point to write down the answer to this question – what distracted me today?
Being clutter-free, tech-free and sound-free would be a great starting point.
#2 – Have a broad plan of execution.
Initially, I had no plan of what I would be doing for my first maun vrat. I spent nearly 6 hours trying to do nothing, and found myself getting extremely bored. Of course, being aware of this boredom was a part of self-awareness, but it was tough to do for so many hours.
Answer some of these questions before you observe silence.
- Where would you be practicing this so that you’re not distracted? Assign yourself a quiet space, and don’t be shy in letting people around you know that you will be unavailable. You don’t want to end up using sign-language to communicate, which too is besides the point!
- How many hours can you genuinely commit to? I wouldn’t start with 6 hours, like I did. Currently, the 3 hour works best for me. Try something short at first, like 45 minutes or an hour, and slowly build momentum.
- What are the rules for this period? For instance, some people keep reading spiritual books as an open option in their maun vrat, to inspire concentrated thoughts of self-awareness. However, personally, I go cold turkey and have omitted all sources of input for my period (laptop/tv, books, social media).
- What are some questions you’d like to reflect on? I started by writing down some questions in advance, and at later stages found questions arising from the reflections I was doing. I’ve put together some of these questions into a digital workbook to help you with your inner reflection.
- How often would you like to do this? This is a question you’d ask once you’ve done your first maun vrat. Can you take out time every week? Or just once a month? If you’re planning shorter durations, you can even scatter different activities on different days and practice 15-30 minutes of quietude everyday.
#3 – Have mindful activities planned.
Like I said in the previous tip, you can decide what the rules will be for you. I chose to isolate myself and not move around, but you can incorporate a mindful walk into your routine.
If you’d like to keep the walk mindful, you can download and listen to this guided walking meditation that I’ve recorded for you, to complement your silence.
Evaluate the activities that will keep you awake (but not taking you away from the present moment), and practice them during periods where you notice the lethargy kicking in.
When I participated in the 50 hours of silence, our activities were quite limited but with good reason. Some of the guidelines we were supposed to follow were, to:
- NOT talk;
- NOT read;
- NOT write;
- NOT make eye contact;
- NOT use technology;
- NOT eat anything other than fruits & vegetables;
All we could do was meditate (with the teacher’s guidance), eat very slowly and mindfully, go on slow, reflective walks, and sleep (again, not in the day but only at night).
It was an opportunity to live like a monk.
It can be a shock to the system to take up all of that spaciousness and nothingness at once, so I would encourage you to create that monk-like experience slowly.
#4 – Quiet the mind and body.
These are some of the tips I was talking about in stage 3, that will help you go deeper into your practice.
- Try to do a physical activity like a jog or household chores before your quiet time, so that you can exhaust some of the physical energy and actually rest during the silence.
- Get tasks out of the way, or manage your responsibilities beforehand too, to ease the mind.
- Instead of just doing one long meditation, you can divide your maun vrat into several different meditations, journaling periods and walks.
In our 50-hours retreat, we repeated the following cycle:
An hour of meditation, followed by an hour of slow, conscious eating, followed by mindful walking. And repeat.
This helped bring an ebb and flow to our journey, with some stillness, some movement and some nourishment.
Other than these suggestions, I also teach people how to ease their way into meditation, and would be happy to support you in advancing your practice, if that feels of service. You can get in touch here to understand how the Design Your Own Meditation Practice workshop looks like and if it’s a good fit for you.
#5 – End Gracefully
I remember when I first used to do food fasts, I would pig out when I opened the fast. This put my body in shock and I would experience extreme lethargy after that. To the same effect, you don’t want to disrupt your stillness by doing something overly engaging right away.
Here are some ways to gracefully end the period of silence –
- ending the quietude with a prayer that you sing aloud,
- chanting for the last few minutes of your silence,
- offer a prayer or blessing, sending out your Love & Light to the planet,
- humming positive songs for the first few minutes of regular life,
- reading a scripture or page from a spiritual book aloud.
The whole idea is to sustain the energy created in silence and carry it into the rest of the day.
Why is it so difficult to observe silence in the first place?
Unfortunately, we are 50 times more stimulated than we were just a few years ago. And with this stimulation and hustle culture, there is little emphasis on stillness. However, as more and more spiritual seekers like you and I understand the need for quietude, we are making our way into normalizing time for doing “nothing”.
Just like working out, this is a slow and steady journey for us to walk on. When I attended the retreat, I realized that I was probably only taking away a fraction of what my teacher had been showing to us through the experience. But even that fraction was valuable enough.
The same is for you – take your time in slowing down. Maybe just 5% more every time. And overtime, like those muscles pumping at the gym, your muscles for self-discovery will develop more and more capacity.
Should every spiritual seeker observe silence?
An important question that I get asked quite often, to which I want to answer with a lot of caution.
Many of the people that are on this spiritual journey have come from backgrounds of traumatic childhoods (and sometimes adulthood). In such cases, it can be overwhelming and dysregulating for our nervous systems to “be in the present moment”. Something I’ve extensively addressed in this article.
The point is that not every practice will feel safe or beneficial to everyone, and a silence retreat is definitely one of those practices that asks you to drop all the aesthetics of spirituality and just be with yourself.
So my two cents on this are that you should start in small doses. You can even consider joining a silence retreat in your locality first, before you try this out on your own. If you find that you’re elevated from the practice, bring it home. However, no, I don’t think every seeker should or can take up observing silence as a regular spiritual practice.
Listen to your intuition and flow with it. You know yourself best!
A silent vow, or maun vrat, when done right can be just as powerful as meditation. In fact deeper. It is a blend of mindfulness and meditation, giving you the luxury to be self-aware without necessarily sitting still the whole period or keeping your eyes closed.
As you practice hours of quietude, note down the power of silence in your life. And do let me know how it goes, in the comments below!
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