How many moments of pure silence do you experience in a single day?
For most people, buzzing notifications, screaming kids, and a million racing thoughts prevent them from having just ten minutes of silence in their busy lives.
Multiply this noise and constant chatter by every day, week, month, or even year, and you have a recipe for high stress and anxiety levels.
If you can relate, it’s no wonder you’re gravitating to meditation. Each practice helps you build inner balance, greater awareness, and peace.
Silent meditation promises all that and more. It can help you reach deep into your subconscious, quiet your mind, and show you the path to enlightenment.
So in this guide, you’ll learn all about silent meditation, including an exploration into its rich history and how to best practice it in today’s modern world.
What is Silent Meditation?
The term silent meditation seems self-explanatory; however, it often raises many questions.
Isn’t all meditation considered silent meditation since you sit in silence? And if you’ve meditated before, does that mean you’ve practiced silent meditation?
Yes and no.
Though many people think meditation only happens in quiet or solitude, there are actually several types of active meditation practices.
Guided meditation occurs when an instructor or yogi talks you through a practice. He or she may use background music, singing bowls, or vocal cues to put you into a relaxed, mindful state.
Silent meditation is considered unguided meditation, which is just the opposite. Silent meditation practitioners do not hear their instructors speak during the practice, nor is there any music or sound.
Instead, you simply sit in silence (hence the name) and focus inward on your breath, and your body’s signals and sensations.
The Benefits of Silent Meditation
During a silent meditation practice, you’ll learn how to move away or distance yourself from suffering and work towards living a joyful, more abundant life.
Each silent meditation session teaches you how to find greater:
With so many distractions in life, it gets more challenging to observe and acknowledge the underlying sensations and feelings that surface in your body and mind.
While it’s common to want to run from this discomfort and ignore it, silent meditation helps you recognize and observe these.
As if you’re an outsider looking in, you’ll learn how to acknowledge these thoughts, feelings, and sensations as they crop up during your session.
Then you can reflect on and work through them instead of running away from or suppressing them.
One of the goals of silent meditation is to accept things the way they are as opposed to how you want them to be.
Oftentimes, we try so hard to change reality to suit our needs and desires that we become frustrated and suffer when it doesn’t pan out.
Silent meditation helps you see the world and your situations as they are without trying to change them. You’ll learn how to find peace in this acceptance of yourself and your life.
So how did this practice first begin?
The History of Silent Meditation
Vipassana meditation is one of the oldest and most well-known forms of silent meditation -- its history dates back to over 2,500 years ago.
Vipassana came into existence when Gotama the Buddha spent 45 years teaching people how to end personal suffering through meditation after he reached enlightenment in 528 BCE[*].
During this time, Vipassana meditation caught on in Buddha’s homeland of India, and its popularity lasted for over five centuries.
Unfortunately, meditation started to fizzle out in India after this period. But a second resurgence in Myanmar reignited the flame and spread the joy of meditation across Asia and, eventually, to westerners.
S.N. Goenka, a retired industrialist of Indian descent who lived in Myanmar, learned Vipassana meditation from Sayagyi U Ba Khin, who was the first to teach this form of meditation to westerners[*][*].
S.N. Goenka carried on the tradition and is widely credited with why Vipassana meditation is still so prevalent today.
Similar to Buddha, early practitioners like S.N. Goenka taught people how to focus inward. Students learned how to notice sensations that came up during their session and how to actively engage with them.
This became the foundation of silent meditation as it is practiced today.
How Silent Meditation is Practiced
There are many different types of silent meditation you can practice.
Some students start with quick, semi-guided sessions before building up to longer, more intense ones. Others begin by diving straight into a silent meditation retreat.
Let’s go over the differences:
Semi-Guided vs. Completely Unguided Meditation Sessions
Like mentioned earlier, silent meditation is traditionally considered a form of unguided meditation.
However, there are semi-guided practices for beginners. Unlike a true guided meditation, you won’t hear vocal cues throughout the practice, only at the beginning and end to check-in.
In this case, an instructor will touch base with you (and others, if you’re in a class) to kick off your session with an intention or goal and conclude your practice with a word of gratitude or encouragement. Aside from these two brief connections, the rest of your practice will be in silence.
As your practice advances, you may find yourself craving more silence, in which case an unguided session will make more sense.
In a completely unguided silent meditation -- which is how it’s traditionally practiced -- there are no instructions at the beginning, middle, or end. You’ll simply show up, get in a comfortable position, and sit in silence for the remainder of your practice.
It’s up to you whether you’ll practice for 10 minutes each day or be more like Buddhist monks meditating for days in silence.
Quick vs. Deeper Sessions
True silent meditation is generally longer than a traditional meditation practice because it’s a bit more advanced.
While you can spend as little as 10 minutes practicing silent meditation, sessions usually last much longer (and some actually top over 10 hours long!) because it takes more time to quiet your thoughts and tune into your emotions and sensations.
So a 10-minute daily practice may be enough to center you during a particularly hectic time. But giving yourself more time in silence will help take your meditation practice to the next level.
Instead of rushing through a quick session, silent meditators take their time to find their zen and observe what comes up. This allows them to tap into deeper emotions that may have been buried over several years or even decades.
However, the more time you spend in this silent state, the more difficult this practice can become. More emotions and sensations begin to surface, which you’ll need to work through on your journey to enlightenment.
So while you could technically practice silent meditation in short increments, you’ll get more out of your session the longer you can commit to it.
Don’t be discouraged if you can only handle quick sessions at first. With ongoing practice, you’ll be craving and happy to complete a deeper session. You may even consider going on a silent meditation retreat.
Silent Meditation Retreats
If you think it may be too challenging to sit in silence alone, being in a serene setting surrounded by others doing the same may make it less difficult.
Sign up for a silent meditation at a retreat, and you’ll join other meditation enthusiasts in practice over the course of 7 to 10 days.
Many beginners find retreats helpful for building their focus and encouraging them to stay on track. This deepens the practice and provides a more enriching experience.
It also doesn’t hurt that meditation retreats take place in beautiful destinations like Bali, Costa Rica, France, Australia, South Africa, and other stunning locales across the globe.
If you’re just beginning your practice, you can get your toes wet with a virtual silent meditation right from the comfort of your own home or backyard.
You’ll simply log into Zoom or another virtual meeting platform from your computer or another device. Then you’ll connect with your instructor and other students to practice your silent meditation together yet apart.
Try Silent Meditation & Learn How to Quiet Your Mind
While you’ve probably meditated before, you may not have practiced a true form of silent meditation if you heard background music playing or an instructor’s voice guiding you throughout your session.
But eliminating both music and vocal cues to immerse yourself in complete silence allows you to reach deeper into your subconscious and work through all the emotions and sensations you may be ignoring.
You’ll enter a new realm where your old ways of thinking and feeling will be replaced with greater awareness and acceptance. You’ll feel more prepared to deal with these thoughts and sensations instead of running away from them.
You can start with a 10-minute silent meditation before working up to those spanning several hours or days. You may even consider joining a silent meditation retreat to take your practice to an entirely different level.
Though a shorter retreat will help beginners ease into their practice, advanced meditators will find longer silent meditation sessions and retreats just the “medicine” they need to tap into their subconscious and unwind the knots that may be holding them back from reaching enlightenment.
Whatever route you decide to take, you’ll quickly learn that silent meditation is incredibly rewarding for your mind, body, and soul.