When there is silence one finds the anchor of the universe within oneself”
― Lao Tzu
“Space and silence are two aspects of the same thing. The same no-thing. They are externalization of inner space and inner silence, which is stillness:
the infinitely creative womb of all existence.”
― Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment
Touching Stillness, even for a few brief moments, is like sipping clear, crisp spring water on a steamy summer day. Paradoxically, it's also like feeling the warm glow of a fireplace, snuggling at home on a snowy evening peering through the window at the moon. In Stillness, the Presence emerges. In a silent whisper, it sings of the Ineffable, that space where the fundamentally mysterious and completely ordinary meet to form the fabric of Life itself.
to simply Sit Still and Be Present. Known as shikantaza in Soto Zen, one's attention is allowed to rest on the moment to moment experience of breath, body, and mind. We simply Sit with what Zen teacher Norman Fischer calls "the basic feeling of being alive." This is often easier said than done. It takes Practice.
Conditioned as we are, we soon notice that our attention is drawn into thoughts and images and memories and daydreams. Rather than sitting there feeling our bodies breathing, we find ourselves scurrying through the streets of New York City, rewriting a scene from yesterday's argument, working out the budget for the month, etc., etc. Again and again and again.
Yet, when we notice this, we are instructed to just make a mental note "thinking", and gently and persistently return to focus on our breath. With effort, time, and patience, we find that our breathing naturally slows and deepens, and a calmer and more expansive quality of consciousness emerges. We are able to simply Be Still, to Be Present more fully.
As Practice Deepens
As one devotes time and effort to meditation, over time, longer periods of a calm and clear awareness will emerge. Yet, there will sometimes be "bumps in the road" as well. In the Gracious Spaciousness that emerges with practice, long repressed feelings and memories can sometimes emerge. This is actually a good thing. You are making what was subconscious, conscious. You are becoming clearer about who you really are.
At these times, you can gently return your attention to your breath/body, or you may choose to focus directly on what has emerged. Letting go of the storylines, you can explore the actual bodily sensations and energies underneath the narratives that thought creates. It is there, beneath and beyond the level of conscious thought, that the deepest patterns reside. These patterns determine the way you perceive and react to the events in your life.
The aim here isn't to get rid of "negative" feelings. Instead we choose to experience them directly and allow them to diffuse into the increasing spaciousness of an open heart and mind. Unlike western therapies that seek to find an intellectual explanation of those feelings (oh, that comes from the time i was three years old, etc....), the object is just to experience the feelings, the pre-conceptual energies of fear, sadness, anger, confusion, etc. -- and relax into the open and clear space around them. There, the Heart/Mind heals itself.
At a certain point, the universality of these feelings becomes self-evident. Rather than identifying with "my" pain, it becomes "the Pain" of our shared humanity. Here, the ancient Tibetan Buddhist practice, Tonglen, can be especially helpful. Rather than turn away from the more troubling feelings, we are instructed to draw them into our hearts on the in-breath with the aspiration that all who feel such feelings be free of such suffering and the roots of such suffering. Then, on the out-breath we release the feelings, and breath out relief with the aspiration that all be at peace.
This Practice has been extremely important to me for the past couple of weeks as friends and family faced the specters of serious illness and death amidst the holiday celebrations.
The Long Haul
Over time, beyond the difficulties and challenges of engaging with Life As It Is, a simple and mysterious Knowing, without words or beliefs, emerges. Life's Sacredness becomes self-evident.
As in childhood, the simple wordless wonder of Just Being Alive emerges --both on and off the meditation cushion.