In psychedelic shamanic ceremonies it is customary to keep noble silence. In a Zen retreat or sesshin you are expected not to talk. Trappist monks keep their traps shut.
Ours is a very talkative culture. For many, retreats are a welcome break from all the blah blah blah. Places for the ten day vipassana silent meditation retreats notoriously sell out like hot cakes. You can find retreats of all kinds all over the country and they are increasingly popular.
But in the hurly burly of modern hyper-connected urban life, it is difficult to resist the draw of the jaw. “Not here, not here the darkness, in this twittering world”.
The Four Quartets is a love poem to Christian mysticism. T.S. Eliot was one of those sensitive poet who appeared to have been continually pained by the incessant vulgarity of the chattering classes. He could see that English culture was progressively losing its connection to its spiritual roots, which is what gives his poem its elegiac quality.
Mysticism is at root concerned with silence. Etymologically, it derives from the Greek verb muo, “to shut”, as in “to shut your mouth”. Historians have speculated whether this has something to do with the secrecy surrounding the Ancient Greek mystery cults. What happens in Eleusis stays in Eleusis.
Intense meditation retreats are designed to quiet the mind, especially the overactive verbal part, mainly associated with the left brain hemisphere. They are a training in mystical consciousness, releasing dormant powers of perception and insight normally covered over by layers of verbiage.
As I explain in my book, mysticism is a portal to deeper and wider realities. I quote Chuang Tzu, the Chinese sage from the 4th century BC, who said that “the portal of God is non-existence”. This is why the system I have developed begins with mysticism.
The system proceeds sequentially through a series of archetypes, representing specific faculties and capacities. First the Mystic, then the Shaman, then the Monk (or Nun), then the Philosopher and then the King (or Queen).
These archetypes are associated with different yogas: dhyana yoga for the Mystic, kundalini yoga for the Shaman, karma yoga for the Warrior, bhakti yoga for the Monk/Nun, jnana yoga for the Philosopher and raja yoga for the King/Queen. Dhyana yoga is about meditation; kundalini yoga is about energy; karma yoga is about action; bhakti yoga is about devotion; jnana yoga is about knowledge and raja yoga is about Self-realisation.
The idea is that we should move through all of these during the course of a psychedelic journey. First, we enter a state of mental quiet through meditation. Then we awaken our inner somatic energies as we “come up” on the psychedelic to energising shamanic music. Then we stretch and exercise the body in a flowing sequence of martial art movements. Then we adopt a devotional attitude by listening to sacred music. Then we work through and process our experiences in dialogue with others. And finally, we meditate on the essence of who we are.
Talking should be kept to a minimum until the jnana yoga stage, the “Philosopher” stage, which is the fifth stage. Crucially, you don’t talk until you have worshipped. Jnana follows bhakti. Otherwise the intellect suppresses the emotions and/or intellectualises them. Until you have acquired the grace of devotion, meaningful talk about serious questions inevitably rings hollow.
As I said, we live in a very talkative culture. Our inner muggles like to natter, our inner divas like to pontificate, our inner muppets like to argue and our inner victims like to moan. Whether we are being sociable, wise, intellectual or just need to get something off our chest, we love to talk. And talk is cheap.
But it really is mostly a lot of hot air, unless we first pass through the Mystic, Shaman, Warrior and Monk/Nun stages. That is, unless we first practice dhyana yoga, kundalini yoga, karma yoga and bhakti yoga. Then you can talk. Then your words will carry weight. Then they won’t just be swept up in the general maelstrom of the collective unconscious meaning-generating-machine known colloquially as “the Matrix”.