Thoughts on the Practice of Mouna

Of all the practices we have been given mouna is the most difficult. I have been thinking in relation to my own efforts to practise mouna and how to make it into a practice of swadhyaya, not only a discipline to be followed, but to experience the purpose and effects of the practice. The most difficult organs to control and regulate are the mouth and the tongue, both in regard to what goes in and what comes out.

What comes out is a projection of our mind and when we are asked to keep mouna our mind naturally rebels and finds every excuse not to keep mouna. Somebody else speaks to us and we think, well, then I can also speak. We think that what we have to say is so important and urgent that it cannot wait. When somebody asks us something, we feel impolite if we don’t answer and are afraid of the reaction from the other person.

In my own practice the first thing I asked myself to do was to observe the things or incidents that made me break mouna and the impulses in the mind that made me want to speak when keeping mouna. There were a few things that I was able to observe.

First impulse

The first impulse I noticed is related to social and cultural conditionings. We are considered to be rude if we don’t say ‘good morning’ or ‘good night’ or ‘how are you?’ the moment we meet someone.

If we have to be together with someone in silence after 30 seconds we start to feel uncomfortable. Try riding in the lift with people you know in silence, even with people you don’t know. First you smile and nod but then what to do. You have to look down and wish that the ride would finish asap. However, if the ride lasts longer than just a few floors everybody starts to relax and rather than an oppressed and uncomfortable silence it becomes a relaxed and natural silence. The same happens if you have to share a room with someone. In the beginning it is very difficult to keep mouna but after some time you notice that you actually start to see and listen to the other person beyond words and speech, beyond the external appearance and beyond your own projection. In the silent communication of mouna we actually get to know each other better than in the verbal communication.

More impulses

The second impulse is related to memories. We meet a person we know and immediately certain memories rise to the surface regarding something that we want or need to tell this person.

Next comes the projection of our sensorial experiences. We experience something and immediately we feel the need to share this experience with somebody whether good or bad – what a beautiful sunset, the food is really tasty, it is very hot today, that person is looking like this or like that – and on it goes the whole day. However, this instant commentary stops us from expanding our awareness and deepening our experience.

With the practice of mouna when we stop that impulse to run our verbal commentary we are able to get out of our head and experience the present moment which we are able to expand and deepen – in silence.

Then comes the need to constantly project our mind and our ego. What we are thinking, our opinions, what we know and don’t know, what we have done, our memories and life stories. Our biggest fear in life has nothing to do with the outside world or external circumstances. Our biggest fear in life is to be with ourselves, our mind. The most confronting experience in life is our own mind and we have made our own mind our greatest enemy. In order not to face our mind we have to project it. When it comes to the practice of mouna, we have to face our own mind and we have to do it with acceptance, with kindness, gentleness and befriend our mind. The practice of mouna allows us to begin this process of becoming aware of our mind and the content of the mind, thoughts, emotions, reactions and memories that we store, accumulate and project in our interactions.

Self-image

Through our speech we are also projecting our self-image. It is important for us to keep up our self-appearance. When we keep mouna and are not able to project ourselves we feel naked and vulnerable. It also means that we have to be with ourselves and see ourselves without the make-up and the different masks that we have created.

People sitting on a bus or waiting for a plane at the airport are unrelated to each other. As soon as they start to speak to each other appearance comes in and the mask is put on, the different mannerisms and expressions are put in place of how they want the world to see them and how they think they have to be and look like in order to fit in.

All this happens without us even being aware of it. Mouna does not actually mean not to speak, but since it is such a strong and uncontrollable impulse or activity of the mind the practice begins with external silence so that we can start to observe the impulses of speech and become aware of what we speak and why we speak.

How much of what we speak is necessary? How much of what we speak is appropriate or inappropriate? How much of what we speak is constructive and positive or destructive and negative? With the practice of mouna we begin to become aware of these questions and how much energy is used and wasted with unnecessary speech. It also brings us closer to the experience and the expression of our natural self.

—Swami Maitreyi, Colombia