Silence is something that comes from your heart, not from outside. Silence doesn’t mean not talking and not doing things; it means you are not disturbed inside. If you’re truly silent, then no matter what situation you find yourself in you can enjoy the silence. There are moments when you think you’re silent, but talking is going on all the time inside your head. That’s not silence. The practice is how to find silence in all the activities you do.
Let us change our way of thinking and our way of looking. We have to learn that silence comes from our heart and not from the absence of talk. Sitting down to eat your lunch may be an opportunity for you to enjoy silence; though others may be speaking, it’s possible for you to be very silent inside. The Buddha was surrounded by thousands of monks. Although he walked, sat, and ate among the monks and nuns, he always dwelled in his silence. The Buddha made it very clear that to be alone, to be quiet, does not mean you have to go to the forest. You can live in the sangha, you can be in the marketplace, yet you still enjoy the silence and the solitude.
being alone does not mean there is no one around you. Being alone means you are established firmly in the here and now and you become aware of what is happening in the present moment. You use your mindfulness to become aware of every feeling, every perception you have. You’re aware of what’s happening around you in the sangha, but you’re always with yourself, and don’t lose yourself. That’s the Buddha’s definition of the ideal practice of solitude: not to be caught in the past or carried away by the future, but always to be here, body and mind united, aware of what is happening in the present moment. That is real solitude.’
- Thich Nhat Hanh, Answers from the Heart.