Finding the Still Point
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment
I know this is the only moment."
As a teen, I used to roll my eyes whenever Dad proclaimed "progress" had distinct problems.
Sometimes, he'd launch into telling me (once again) that his grandfather believed that the automobile would be a destructive force in the world. A man who had witnessed their emergence on the roads of southern California at the turn of the 20th century, he thought people were moving much too fast. Sped up in their own self-contained worlds, they were loosing touch with nature -- and with one another.
Now, decades later, I get it. As Bob Dylan once sang, "Ah, but I was so much older then. I'm younger than that now." My great-grandfather had a pretty clear idea of the direction we were heading.
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 minor bureaucrat, he had left the country when the Communist government took power.
We were co-workers at a spiffy New Age natural foods restaurant, bakery,
retail store complex in Madison, WI. As we sat in the alley out back
taking a break(with one eye out for the manager), he lamented that the entire pace of
life in the U.S. was unhealthy, uncivilized and inhumane. Staying in touch with his relatives, hearing of their lives, he had decided to return home. He had come to believe that the entire fabric of life in his
homeland, Communist or not, was much better than what he and his family was experiencing in the US.
And that was thirty-five years ago!
That was before everyone had a PC , a cell phone, the internet, and a gazzillion cable channels to choose from. Back then, I still had the time and space to sigh and stretch out when I got home from work. If I wanted stimulation, I would reach for the TV Guide and look through the listings, then get out of the chair to stroll across the room to select the channel. If I wanted to change the channel, it was a decision that required me to stroll back across the room.
It seems that most of are on remote control, bombarded with stimuli and activity, sped up and wired for action in most every waking moment --or thinking about it. Our cellphones can capture us at the blink of an eye.
Even at rest, our minds are constantly 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
And -- surprise, surprise -- most of us are often feeling a bit 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 Vast, Spacious, 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.
Conditioned as we are, it actually takes a commitment, time, 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.
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, fear, 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 the distraction of television, or web surfing. Then, these activities become addictive patterns and exacerbate the situation.
A Moment's Peace
in this day and age we also have access to an entire world of Teachings,
and to the meditative practices developed through the ages to alter our conditioning and 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 to a meditation practice, we can learn to relax, to be still, to open our hearts and minds to the Deep Peace that exists in the Heart of Reality.
Stop. Look. Listen.
Although there is a great value in maintaining a daily meditation practice, I've found that participating in extended periods of peace and quite can be quite illuminating. I've attended a number of organized retreats over the past 50 years ranging from one day Zazenkai's to spending a month in silence during IMS's Three Month course. Each has been a valuable way to break free of the momentum of my own patterns, slow down, and hit the reset button.
This fall, I will again engage in a personal Fall Ango, beginning the season with a three day personal retreat to fast, pray, and meditate in silence. I also intend to continue facilitating the Be Still and Know Day of Mindful Practice once a month (now on Zoom.)
I'm not sure yet exactly what additional commitments I will make to jump off the merry-go-round of noise and activity that can so readily sweep me away. I'll see what arises from the silence. Although part of me shudders at the thought, I may even declare, once again, a weekly day of abstinence from the cellphone and the internet! (taking several deep breaths...watching fear and restlessness emerge...lol)
One Breath at a Time
Whether we have the opportunity and inclination to participate in a period of extended meditation and silence or not, both the ends and the means of Practice are the same. It all boils down to simply being Present. Even a choice to stop what you are doing, to pause, to take a deep breath (or two or three,) can transform your day.
There, in those precious moments, you may become of aware of the miraculous world of sensation that you are immersed in, the myriad sights and sounds and feelings that emerge with the inhalation and exhalation of each breath. Just pausing, taking that time to be Present, can engage the process of returning home to your True Nature.
You could do that right now!