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Soothing silence

Nancy Arcayna
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Silence, often awkward and not always welcome in today’s hurly-burly world, has played an important role in religion throughout the centuries. Many faiths view silence as a pathway to the divine. It also can be practiced in a secular fashion to achieve serenity, mental clarity and relaxation.

Finding time to let the mind take a mini vacation can be a challenge amid the everyday clamor and chaos of a career, family and home, but taking a few moments a day to be still can have profound effects on one’s well-being, said Dr. Lori Kimata, a naturopathic physician with practices in Haleiwa and Honolulu.

"Silence is the yin part of the balance of life. We all need balance and most of us have way more noise than silence," she said.

Sister Anne Claire, a member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in Honolulu, said Roman Catholics are encouraged to reserve time during the day for contemplation. "It helps you focus not on what you want, but on what you need … time to figure out what’s best for the soul," she said.

Nuns in the religious order perform a daily ritual known as adoration. It’s a time to go to chapel to think about and pray for all that happens in the world, Sister Anne Claire said.

"For me, I pull back and reflect on what’s essential. For us in religious life, it’s not the work, but our relationship with God that matters," she said.

Pulling back isn’t so easy for people who attend silent retreats at the St. Anthony Retreat Center in Kalihi Valley. The center is run by the sisters of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. "By the third day, people are sort of calm," she said.

Sister Anne Claire said silence for the mind can have similar effects as fasting on the body.

"Many times the silence is a purification process of cleansing yourself of noise," she said. "We get so caught up in expectations of others. There are so many deadlines. People are grabbing for a piece of you, and if you don’t take time out for yourself, soon you will have no pieces to offer."

Dean Nelson, founder of the Kailua Shambhala Meditation Center, said silence can be intimidating and off-putting, especially to those living a highly charged lifestyle. "We are programmed to think if we are busy and noisy, that our lives are productive," he said. "We’ve picked up the noisy and doing end of the stick instead of the silence and being end of the stick. As a culture, we’ve chosen that… .

"It takes tremendous courage to face the world. It’s easier to hide and be afraid," he said. "When you pray, you talk to God. When you are silent, God talks to you. Happiness, kindness, compassion and wisdom are all things that make up silence. When you are silent, you become more of these things."

Zen Buddhist priest Koro Kaisan Miles gets up before anyone else in his house and spends the first two hours of every day in silence. "I meditate, make myself tea and do my morning exercises all in silence," he said.

Miles began practicing silence back in 1973. He is resident teacher at the Open Gate Zendo in Olympia, Wash., and has ties to two local temples in Hawaii.

He has participated in retreats, known as sesshin, or "gathering the mind" in Japanese, where the entire day is spent in silence. "To truly appreciate what peace there is in silence, we only need to remember those things we wish we had never said," he explained.

For regular folks who may find an entire day of quiet too taxing, Miles suggests taking a walk in nature to "effortlessly slip into a sacred space beyond words and worldly concerns."

Fortunately, quiet, tranquil settings are in abundance in Hawaii. One such place is the Kalani Oceanside Retreat Center near rugged Kalapana on the Big Island. The center spans 120 acres of mostly native botanical gardens.

General manager Tiki DeGenaro said the recent economic and political turmoil left many people uncertain and unsettled. "Two years ago, when the economy fell, people started to focus more on themselves. They wanted to learn how to deal with the stressors in their lives … ," DeGenaro said. "And, the world is more stressful than ever."

Most guests who stay at the Kalani Retreat Center are seeking to immerse themselves in nature, she said.

"When you are living closer to the Earth, it puts you in touch with having to look at yourself. When you remove all of the outside responsibilities, you become less distracted," she said. "It’s human nature that everyone wants to feel better."

On site, there are many quiet places to go, including a Buddha garden, a labyrinth garden and an exotic fruit garden. "We don’t espouse any one religion or belief system. All of the settings can be used for silence or meditation practice," she said.

DeGenaro said she’s also seen a resurgence in recent years of Vipassana, a form of silent meditation.

"It’s definitely a growing trend. It’s so popular that they have been creating more centers. Retreats are held on the Big Island and all over the place," she said.

Kimata, the naturopathic physician, said silence doesn’t always need to be still. "Silence can be walking in nature, sitting on a surfboard floating with the waves or sitting cross legged on a pillow while breathing deeply," she said.

Kimata suggests setting up a quiet space, preferably somewhere in the home away from the distractions of daily life.

She said sitting in silence can have physical as well as mental health benefits by decreasing blood pressure, reducing anxiety and helping with sleep problems such as insomnia.

"It helps people to become more peaceful, especially if they are stuck in a fight-or-flight mode. It also helps people think more clearly, which leads to better decision making," she said.


» Set aside a block of time each day to practice silence.
» Set up a serene spot in your home or office, away from any noise and distractions.
» Turn off your cell phone, unplug the house phone and wear earplugs if you live next to a busy street or if the neighbor’s music is too loud.
» Make sure the television, computer and radio are turned off.
» Clear the room of kids (and pets) and close the door.
» Leave your car radio off while driving; drive to your destination in silence.
» Find a quiet spot in nature, but be prepared for mosquitos and noisy birds or other animals.
» Combine silence rituals with aromatic baths or other relaxing activities.

Source: Lori Kimata


» Kailua Shambhala Meditation Center
Free public meditation sessions, 6:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays and 9:15 to 10:15 a.m. Sundays.
Call 342-6298 or e-mail kailua.shambhala@gmail.com.
» Palolo Zen Center
Call 735-1347 or e-mail info@diamondsangha.org.
» St. Anthony’s Retreat Center
3351 Kalihi St., Honolulu
Call 845-4353.
» Vipassana Hawaii
Honolulu: 732-6309
Kohala: 889-0567
» Kalani Oceanside Retreat, Pahoa, Hawaii:
Call 800-800-6886 or 965-7828.
» Wood Valley Temple Retreat & Guest House, Pahala, Hawaii:
Call 928-8539.
» SpiritQuest Maui Retreat Center
Individual and group retreats are held at the Banyan Tree Inn, Makawao, Maui.
Call 888-400-1819.

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