to simply be present in the stillness that is the foundation of our lives. Yet if we never get in touch with that stillness, we never fully experience our lives."
-- Roshi John Daido Loori, Finding the Still Point
As I glance at the cellphone sitting alongside the keyboard and notice that I'm currently sitting here with 6 tabs of information on this browser awaiting my beck and call (quotes, pictures, wikepedia, dictionary, email, blogger), I am quite aware that there is something deeply unsettling about the nature of "life as we know it" on planet earth today -- at least here in 21st century America. Having compared notes with other geezers, it seems there is a consensus: The rat race has only gotten worse.
Although, I can't speak about how it may feel in other parts of the world today, I do remember having a conversation with an immigrant from Vietnam years ago, a co-worker in a spiffy New Age natural foods restaurant, bakery, retail store complex in Madison, WI. As we sat in the alley out back (with one eye out for the manager), he lamented that the entire pace of life in the U.S. was unhealthy, uncivilized and inhumane. Communist or not, he was planning on trying to return to his homeland. And that was thirty years ago, when I still had time to sigh and stretch after work, reach for the TV Guide, look through the listings, then get out of the chair to stroll across the room to change the channel.
Now, in today's world, it seems that most of are on remote control, wired for action in most every waking moment --or thinking about it. Even "at rest", our thumbs twitch, and we are on the move with a dizzying kaleidoscope of images and sounds and thoughts zipping through our awareness continuously. Awash in constant stimulation, scurry, and noise, time seems to have collapsed -- leaving no time at all.
And -- surprise, surprise -- most of us are left feeling breathless; increasingly stressed out, restless and anxious.
Give it a Rest, Buddhy!
In all the major religious traditions that I've studied over the years, there is a deep recognition that Stillness and Rest are not only important -- they are crucial. As mystics throughout the ages have proclaimed, at the core of Reality, there is Quiescence, a Profound Stillness. It is an essential part of Our Being. Although we can get swept up in the activity and constant sensory bombardment of today's world, I think it's important to remember that even the OmniProductive God of the Old Testament, working hard enough to create the entire Universe in only six days, then took a day off --and proclaimed it Holy!
Of course, as God Almighty, Yahweh could probably kick back and settle right into the Stillness. For most of us,
it may not be that easy. It takes a commitment, some time and effort, and some discipline to cultivate our own ability to relax, focus and become Present to the what my first Zen teacher called the Soundless Sound: the sacred and miraculous reality of Life Itself.
It takes Practice.
Adrift in the buzz of contemporary society (which, I think, could be itself diagnosed as ADHD), most of us have internalized the incessant noise and relentless activity of a system build on greed and ignorance. That noise and activity lives on in our bodies, our emotions and, perhaps most of all, in our thoughts. Even at relative rest, we may tend to feel stressed -- unless we are lost in yet another distraction, which itself often tends to ultimately exacerbate the stress.
Thankfully, in this day and age we also have access an entire world of Teachings, and to the meditative practices developed through the ages to free us from this vicious cycle. If a patently neurotic, addictive, and workaholic personality like myself can do it, I'm convinced that anybody can. If we make the decision to commit, we can learn to relax, to be still, to be Present to the Presence. We can open our hearts and minds to the Deep Peace that exists in the Heart of Reality.
Although there is a great value in extended periods of meditation (I, myself, am looking forward to this Saturday's day-long retreat.), even a decision to regularly pause for a moment to be aware of the world of sensation that you are immersed in with the inhalation and exhalation of each breath, or a moment to stop what you are doing (or what you are thinking about doing), to be present to the myriad sights and sounds that surround you, can engage the process of returning Home to your True Nature. It always exists in the Present Moment.
You could do that right now!