Three pieces of advice for taming silence

Three pieces of advice for taming silence

Here’s my invitation to take a looooong breath and relax before reading the following lines…….

This little piece has been written listening to the purring of Lala ( a zen cat, if there is such a thing) so I invite you to take a loooong breath and relax before reading the following lines …

The theme is – as the title suggests – silence. Silence in all its forms, all the nooks and crannies, from the earth to the sky, the cellar to the attic. But above all, silence in daily life. For it’s there, in the heart of our endless days, that the hubbub seems to cover our lives, in a way that is just as incongruous and disagreeable as a woollen blanket in a sauna. Yuk!

And yet, if we look a little closer, our environment isn’t so noisy. And even in the heart of the city, once the metro stops, it is possible to savour some little drops of suspended silence.

The question that engages us here is the following: where does all this noise come from? This hubbub, racket din, ? To respond, we installed some consenting and unpaid guinea pigs in the meditation posture in the heart of Paris, with the following assignment : prick up your ears, listen to the sounds of the world … then report back. ( Note that we did this little experiment in a totally ethical way: no human being was harmed in the making of it… except the employee of a well known bank, for whom the 30 minutes of meditation, not moving, without a telephone, was like being tortured.) So, after zazen ( zen meditation) , the participants emphasised two things:

  1. There’s a lot less noise in the city than you would think.
  2. But by comparison, in their heads it was a complete circus! Thoughts running around in all directions, completely incoherent and never stopping for a moment!

And this eventually leads us to know the real theme of this article: how to find inner silence. What to do to stop this washing machine of thoughts, the spin cycle set in our heads, and move into ‘wool’ mode. Or – to say it the Buddhist way – how to plainly see and accept these thoughts completely, even if they are still fizzing around. Ommmm …

What a big agenda! Fortunately there is a method available to us, which allows us to tame this silence, step by step : the silence cure. Here is the prescription, carefully established after years of tests, experiments and apprenticeships in the laboratory of life.

The dosage.

The silence cure consists of retreating from the world for a period: a weekend would be ideal, but a morning , even a few ours, can suffice. During this time, you will become aware of your actions and thoughts through a variety of methods. This state of awareness has the goal of reconnecting you to the present moment, to the thing you are in the process of doing at that moment (like reading this article) in the place where you are (here, now) etc. Doing this, with your body and thoughts in unity, will change your perception of life.

Here, for example, are some ‘exercises’ to do during your cure.

Practice 1. Silence of the eyes.

For 5 – 10 minutes lower your gaze in front of your, on the ground, at a 45 degree angle. Let the eyelids soften, the eye muscles, even the cheeks… Keep the eyes half closed to have full Presence, a complete awareness of what you are doing.

The probable result : a new connection to the body, thoughts calm down, the mind which has wandered off in one direction learns how to focus once more.

Practice 2 . Silence of the ears.

In a dynamic posture, seated or standing, once more become aware of the noise of the universe in which you are bathed. Hear sounds that are near or far, different tones, everything that surrounds you. Suddenly a question pops up : the sounds you hear, are they internal or external?

The result. You centre yourself once more. You touch once more a certain sense of presence, of the awareness of being alive, here and now.

or not. In that case, try the next practice…

Practice 3 Silence of the body.

Our body often has emotions running through it. Mostly they are unconscious ones, but they leave traces in our state of being. To encourage the natural circulation of emotions and to allow them to actually pass through without stopping, there is nothing better than to tune in to the breath. TO reconnect, to invite it sit at the table of life.

Result : having awareness of the breath is the first step towards calming. From connecting with it, the breath shifts to the abdomen of its own accord, and spreads its strength,

Do this often and in all situations.

Precautions for use.

It goes without saying that this cure is impossible without the silence of words. Mobiles and other electric gadgets should be in airplane mode ( warn your friends and family) and you should resist the pleasure of commentating on your experiences in real time on Twitter. Off. Silence. Disconnected from the world … for a time of your own choosing.

I also recommend some inspiring material to have around you, to sow some seeds of wisdom in your mind.

Side effects.

To feel for the first time an emptiness, a loss or another emotion that isn’t very nice. This is a transition. A shift from a hyperactive life towards a moment of calm. The secret of getting through it is quite simply to accept it. Loss is primarily a physical sensation, impermanent, ephemeral, which will disappear as soon as you welcome it.

But once you have got through loss, a great sensation of freedom may fill you: the freedom of silence and solitude that you have welcomed in, when you wish, for an authentic life.

Going forward.

If these few lines have inspired you, you can find many exercises, examples and stories in the book – “The gift of silence” ( Yellow Kite Publisher – january 2018)

Some very good places to practice meditation in UK :


THANKS TO HILARY MAC RAE for the translation ! 🙂

A splendid photo in front of the cathedral (Strasbourg – France )

One afternoon of December. Appointment with the ZUT! Magazine team for a photo shooting in Strasbourg. The shooting must include an important place of Strasbourg, outside. Immediately, it is to the cathedral that I think, immense, sumptuous, majestic, as an invitation to spirituality … in the heart of the city.
Then we pass near the garden of the Récollets cloister. Not bad : nature recalling the cobblestones.
Direction the communication cell of the Palais Rohan for a permission of shooting, improvised. And here, climbing the steps of this very old building, on the right: a terrace with a view of … the cathedral! A view very rarely offered because the famous terrace is closed to the public. But here we get permission, with a smile, and with the feeling of living a unique moment.
The Buddhas hovered in front of the cathedral, time stopped … PAUSE …

JOURNALIST: Caroline Lévy

INSPIRED PHOTOGRAPHER : Henri Vogt Photographer

Dalai Lama ZEN

My Secret Relationship With the Dalai Lama

It’s about time I revealed all, I’ve kept silent for too long now! Through these few words you will better understand what I mean and I for one will be relieved. So here is a sort of « spiritual coming-out » with a few funny details thrown in.

I met the Dalai Lama in 1991, the year I graduated from high school. At that time, I was a just another teenager, a little lost, mistaking the street light for the sun. One day, a day like no other, I went to a neighbourhood library, walked through the sections to kill time and most of all to avoid thinking about the party I had attended the night before. Why did my hand grab that worn book? That’s a mystery this story will not clear up. On the cover there was a little man, tanned and smiling, dressed in a red robe – a man wearing a robe, that was already so hype! And this is where everything started.

Quick as a flash and without anyone noticing, I devoured it. A party animal who was reading, that was quite a surprising thing. Nonetheless, I took as much time to end the book as it took me to drink a pint of beer back in 1991 – my skills in this matter have drastically decreased and none of us will complain about it. Whatever happened after I read the book? I just put it back on the shelf. And then I looked around me with the incredible sensation that I was looking at the world for the very first time. There was the sky, the clouds, the trees, the people, and the dogs but all of a sudden, this landscape took on a reassuring outline.

I didn’t tell anyone. Space had opened up; a little red man had entered my life.
The little red man remained quite discreet during the years that followed. Like some sort of initiatory sentimental experience, I lived love stories after love stories, without ever telling the loves of my life that there was actually a third person in the couple. And every time I felt too infatuated with the man I was in love with – a habit of mine – my little red man would publish a book or give a conference – on audio cassettes… mind you! – that would put me back on the right track.

So I started trusting him and taking a closer look at how he lived, moved, talked, and laughed. As people from the NLP – Neuro Linguistic Programming – would put it, I modelled him. Or rather I sucked him in, sucked the blood out of him, and acted like a praying mantis on him. Our symbiotic relationship lasted seven years. Seven years of arguments, break-ups, reunions and eventually seven years of happiness. When he published The Art of Happiness – with Howard Cutler – I knew it was the right moment to take action. I went on a Buddhist retreat, then on another one, and another one, and then I became a nun. It was meant to be, him and I, forever.
There was just one snag in the process, the colour! No deep red colour for me, I became a nun in a Zen School of Buddhism, dressed all in black – was that a karmic track of my gothic phase? His Holiness did not hold it against me. He kept on laughing, glowing with wisdom, watching over little nuns and monks of all colours, meditating day after day.

The Dalai Lama was in Strasbourg a few days ago. Faithful to our beginnings, I watch him from afar, laughing, and enjoying the law of interdependence that brings us so close to each other.

The Buddhist Recipe to Prolong the Holidays in Your Head

Remind yourself that vacation is within reach, even as you stretch your budget for back to school supplies. But before tossing the baby out with the bath water, please grant me the benefit of the doubt — at least until the end of this article — and let me offer you, if you’ll accept, a quick read.

Vacation is above all else a state of mind… And yet, for most of us, the door to freedom opens once the door to the office closes. The first night of the long-awaited vacation is a magical moment! We would almost throw our briefcases up in the air, hug a streetlight, and tap dance our way down the street.

A vacation means that freedom is ours after weeks of exhausting work, obligations, and responsibilities. Freedom, set to the sound of rolling waves, seems to be the fruit of these hours of idleness. The hidden Easter egg, the winning lottery numbers, the ultimate sensation capable of recharging our batteries. Freedom: the incredible joy of having long hours ahead of us before going back to work… is the best!

Of course, the setting plays a big part: you’ll notice that it’s easier to feel free with your feet propped up while sipping on a martini than on a crowded subway platform waiting for the L train. But is that an immutable fact? Do you really think that your internal freedom still depends on external conditions? (If so, allow yourself the risk of changing your mind and keep reading…)

“I’m free! Like a river…” sang Stevie Wonder before being sponsored by a bank. For the flow of the river reflects our putative freedom: either we float along with the current like an autumn leaf, or we remain like a stone at the bottom of the stream, with little chance of being exposed to sunlight. In order to remain free, it’s indeed necessary to let go and go along with the of time passing. That’s what we feel during vacation: that feeling of letting go, born from the ultimate meeting of being and time (thanks, Heidegger).

But once again, sitting there, nestled in a lounge chair, it’s easy: time can take its time, the hours are long and no obligations rear their ugly heads, except maybe that of refilling the ice-cube tray in the freezer. But what do you do once you’ve returned from Ko Samui or Niagara Falls?

Here’s the recipe for what the Buddhist masters call the “Inconceivable Emancipation”: the ultimate way to feel free under any circumstances. All it takes is to accept the life you’re living. To receive, with the same spirit, both pleasure and displeasure. To be with, rather than against. And to realize with time that, in the coinciding of things, the stream and the leaf are completely emancipated and free!

That’s the theory. Now, we can move on to the recipe for taking action. You must first let go of some of the thoughts that run through your mind. In that way, the mind becomes emancipated and free to adopt the state of mind it will have chosen: that of a lifelong vacation.

Here are some suggestions, feel free to add some of your own:

Mental cleaning: Close your eyes for five minutes and “delicately dust off” the contents of your brain. When a thought appears, slide it to the side, gently, saving it for later (or never). This is a sort of spring cleaning to be done several times a day. The key to this exercise is to treat all passing thoughts with tenderness.

The lounge chair: Caught up in your activities, the outside world has disappeared… Stop! Take a deep breath and open your eyes to contemplate the horizon. Whatever the landscape in front of you, stare into the distance. By decentering yourself in this way, the energy changes completely and you regain the space of internal freedom. The key to this exercise is the change of perspective.

One thing at a time: Do one thing at a time, like preparing a meal, walking, taking a bath. But do it fully, while experiencing the motions, the scents, the contact your feet make with the floor… And regain the simplicity of the moment. The key to this exercise is approaching it with a child’s curiosity.

All of these are exercises for the mind, that allow it to return to the “here and now” and to regain the ideal destination for an “internal vacation.”

Bon voyage!

This post originally appeared on HuffPost France and was translated into English.

Photo Manuela Böhme

Discovering the Secrets of the Ayurveda

… a purification retreat in India, narrated by a European woman

Embarking for ancient India… As I am sitting comfortably in a luxurious seat of the new A380 Airbus, I contemplate with wide open eyes the tarmac of Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle airport. Lights flicker everywhere, illuminating the rising dusk. In the distance, the Parisian suburbs are lit up as if it were midday. Once more, I am perplexed about our Western lifestyles and this abundance of light coming straight from the nuclear power stations.

For several years, my intuition has told me that there is something else – something important – to seek over there, seven thousand kilometers away. Going back to the source, walking the path backwards, putting one’s steps in the steps of the Buddha…
Take off!

On a Summer Friday – 9.30 p.m.

Crédits photo : Manuela Böhme –
In the night – 2.30 a.m.

India will not let itself be discovered without effort… We stop over at Doha, capital of Qatar, in an immense, almost empty, brand new airport. Two hours of waiting in the midst of luxury stores, shiny sports cars and bulging-eyed travelers. All is made to “create desire”, as if thirst (trisna) did not reappear by itself, minute after minute, as a supercharged Phoenix! Lack, then desire, then a transitory satisfaction and again lack… The wheel of samsara is reflected on the rims of a sparkling Ferrari and I suddenly feel like a warrior: we do not want this world! The inner revolution is on its way and David stands joyfully in front of Goliath.

Sometime later – 10.00 a.m.

Here we are! It is the beginning of our trip in India, land of the venerated Shakyamuni Buddha.

There is a taxi outside waiting for us to head to Mangarai, a small village near Coimbatore, our final destination. I am travelling with B., an old friend of mine who is a hypnotist and a practitioner of the Tibetan Tantric way. The purpose of our trip is almost initiatory: spending 4 weeks in an aryurvedic clinic in the mountains, to practice an ancient ritual, the Pancha Karma.
Four weeks far away from everything, with minimal food, traditional health care with plants and most of all, long periods of time in silence to purify our body, our body-mind.


Crédits photo : Manuela Böhme –
Out of sheer coincidence, I find out that our taxi driver was also the driver of the ashram of Yogi R. whom I really wanted to meet. He phones somebody and then we resume our drive. Two hours later, everything going ever so smoothly, we meet the master.

He is tall, dressed in white, in the manner of Yogis, has a gray beard and vivid eyes. But what emanates from him right away, is a harmonious mixture of wisdom and kindness. The initial encounter is short because it is 12 a.m., the hour of mid-day meditation. Master R. invites us to be a part of it. A few hours only after setting foot on the land of Buddha, I find myself sitting in Zazen among friends; Indian Gods seem to be taking care of us.


Crédits photo : Manuela Böhme –

Crédits photo : Manuela Böhme –
Master R. supervises the ashram with two yogi companions, who are around sixty, like him.
All three of them are shining peacefully; they are a living promotion of the thousand-year Way of Yoga: a wonderful encounter with a shining aspect that will have a great impact in the following weeks!

Three days later

I have been here a few days, in this ayurvedic private clinic with a multitude of Shivaite temples and other sacred trees nestled around it. The jungle surrounds the place, with a two-meter deep ditch in between, the ultimate protection against elephants and leopards. It is forbidden to go for a walk there, and our demands of wannabe Indiana Jones will change nothing.

Day after day, moment after moment, the ritual of Pancha Karma proceeds in an atmosphere of prayers and spirituality. Pujas (ceremonies of offerings) take place each morning in honor of various Hindu divinities. The rituals of fire, celebrated on request, accompany the patients on their way to healing. Each morning also, a Brahman comes to sound the traditional bells and to sing mantras.

Offerings of light, songs, smiles, delicious delicacies: the work of purification is also contained in all these practices, in which the whole universe, the Great Carer, is reflected.


Crédits photo : Manuela Böhme –
Time goes by…

The first week of Pancha Karma is completed. After having carefully defined our ayurvedic constitution (Pitta, Kapha, Vata), and having asked us about our wishes and our possible minor ailments, the doctors prescribe a treatment made of plants: broths to swallow eight times per day and different sorts of massages, plasters, purgings and other curative ointments.

More than a medical treatment, what I came to India for was to find frugality and abandonment. The room is minimalist, the washing facilities basic: perfect for asceticism. But I rather quickly understand – with some unease – that this sobriety amounts to luxury for the average Indian. They usually live in tiny rooms with several members of their family, with often a simple piece of canvas on top of their head.

At the source of Yoga

Coincidences and synchronicities are an everyday life thing here: as if India was part of a different time-frame place, as if the rules of the “ordinary world” were slowly being replaced by a sort of quantic reality… So there’s nothing weird really about the fact that the clinic was built on the very same place where Pantanjali – mythical yogi and well-known author of the Yoga Sutra – lived thousands of years ago.

Every morning at sunrise, Ammukuty offers a practice of Hatha Yoga. The bravest ones – only a few people – gather on the terrace of one of the buildings, just underneath the Pantanjali rock. In this atmosphere, each detail of the asanas is transformed into a prayer of the body. My encounter with Master R. and his yogi friends when I arrived in India embraced my whole body. Therefore, as the venerable star is rising at the horizon, the profound wish of pursuing the daily practice once I am back in France is rising too.

Shirodhara, the great silence

Immersing in the Great Silence. Yesterday the main phase of the ritual started: Shirodhara, the climax of the cure, carefully prepared during the previous weeks, a progressive purification of physical and mental toxins. Each day, for nearly an hour and a half, the therapists gently sweep my face with warm oil, in a hypnotic swaying. Six attentive young women are at work for this treatment, in perfect harmony: some heat the oil, others slowly spread it on the body in the manner of an “amniotic bath”, and the last one gently caresses the head while making the oil flow from right to left in a continuous stream. The combined effect of these oilings feels like a return to the Source, a primordial rebooting of the cells, those of before birth, or even more ancient…

This week of Shirodhara combines a total opening and a great vulnerability. The thinned body – I weigh 47 kilos – receives each piece of information with acuity. The instructions imposed – gently but firmly – to the practitioner of Pancha Karma go along the same rules: not to leave the room for seven days, silence and a pure and simple stop of any activity. All of them. Without exception. The doctors thus enjoin me to stop meditating.

Gravity and grace

On the morning of the fourth day, something settled… after long days of fight against imposed inertia. During these dark moments, as long as a day without bread, I want to read, write, go for a walk, spend long hours in meditation… But all these are prohibited. And it is especially the latter point which crystallizes my irritation. I had carefully prepared a program of spiritual practice in preparation for Shirodhara: meditation, ritual, yoga etc. All my plans have fallen through. So I rant: “Those doctors do not know anything about practice; to prevent me from meditating, nonsense!”… Then I grumble, curse then get irritated by my own anger when – suddenly – one morning, in front of the window in my room, everything changes!


Crédits photo : Manuela Böhme –
Outside, the first rays of the sun go through the scintillating foliage of a tree with a thousand branches: Kannon Bodhisattva (the embodiment of the compassion in Buddhism) a fairy with green hair. The majestic tree is carrying a message. “All is there. Stop doing. Stop moving. Stop seeking. Let go… If you move too much, you do not see any more.”

The three next days are passed in “suspended time”, taking refuge in the branches of Kannon. Each moment like a treasure, each instant fully lived, each small thing suddenly large, as simple as that.


Crédits photo : Manuela Böhme –
A new start

Now is the time to leave India. From this old and spiritual civilization, I learned so much!
I learned fervor. I learned silence. I learned the non-doing. A priceless lesson.
And, to move forward along my Way, I carry the light, offered one day by Kannon, the tree with a thousand arms.


Crédits photo : Manuela Böhme –

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