Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Verbal Fast

In a discussion about Muslims fasting during the month of Ramadan, a student said that he regularly engages in a "verbal fast." I hadn't heard this term before and asked him to explain. A verbal fast, he said, is to refrain from speaking for a certain period of time.

This student says that he has fasted verbally for up to a month. I asked him about the benefits of this kind of fast and he mentioned the following: silence and a greater focus on listening.

When you think about it, silence is a rare gift in our lives. We are nearly always surrounded by noise of some kind. Even when we're in a quiet place, there is rarely total silence. And, when there is, there is the noise within: thoughts, feelings, inner voices. That's why the goal of Buddhist meditation is to achieve a "blank mind" where we are silent within.

Whatever the spiritual benefits of silence, the greater benefit of not talking is that we have an opportunity to listen. It is difficult for the ears and mouth to function well at the same time. If we want to really hear what a person (or God) is saying, we need to be silent. Listening and silence are partners in the act of hearing.

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