"Mindfulness Practice isn't just about escaping to some magical inner realm devoid of life's challenges. The Practice is about calming your mind and opening your heart enough to engage Life directly, to be more fully Present in a kind, clear, and helpful way."

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The Musings of a Long-time Student of Meditation

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Be Still and Know

“What is the sound of one hand clapping?” 
 -- Zen Koan
 
"Be still and know that I am God. "
Psalms 46:10

In all the major religious traditions that I've studied over the years, there is a deep recognition that Stillness is important to connect with the sacred dimension of life.  The core mystical experiences of many of the sages, seers, and saints involved retreating from the noise and busyness of life, and Simply Sitting Still.
 
This is not only emphasized in the religions of the East, it is central to the traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as well.  Making time to withdraw from the incessant noise and activity of "business as usual" is seen as crucial.  Even the OmniProductive God of the Old Testament, working hard enough to create the entire freakin' Universe in only six days, then took a day off.  He proclaimed it as Holy!

Of course, as God Almighty, Yahweh could just kick back and settle right into the Stillness.  In fact, God being God, he/she is the Stillness, the Infinite Source at the foundation of all sound, all activity.
 
Yet, for most of us, being still is not that easy.  It takes a commitment, some skill, and some discipline to cultivate our own ability to slow down the seemingly incessant chatter of our mental activity.  It takes time and effort to become Present to what my first Zen teacher, Reverend Gyomay Kubose, called the Soundless Sound.
,
It takes Practice.  
 
The Way It Is

Immersed in the buzz of contemporary society (which, itself, could be diagnosed as ADHD), most of us have internalized the incessant noise and relentless activity of a social system build on greed, fear, and ignorance. The noise and activity doesn't just exist "out there." It lives on in our bodies, our emotions and, perhaps most of all, in our thoughts.  Even at relative rest, our minds are usually abuzz.  Lost in our thoughts, we often feel stressed.  It is often acted out (and reinforced) through constant movement.  Even "at rest", there is liable to be gum chewing, toe tapping, hair twirling, nail-biting, etc. 

Even if we are sitting still in an incarnation as couch potatoes, internally we continue to bop until we drop. We keep our minds busy.  Turning toward the distractions of "news and entertainment," our attention is consumed by video and audio stimulation.  It never is allowed to settle into the deep tranquility available to us -- until we finally fall into a deep sleep. Even that, for many, seems to be difficult to do.  So-called sleep disorders are more and more prevalent.

Thankfully, in this day and age we also have access to an entire world of Spiritual Teachings, and to meditative practices developed through the ages to free us from this vicious cycle of incessant physical and mental activity.  I'm grateful to have stumbled across this vast pool of wisdom as a young man.  I have maintained a regular meditation practice for decades.
 
This I do believe: If a extremely neurotic, addictive, and workaholic personality like mine can experience what St. Paul called "the Peace that passeth all understanding," anybody can.  If someone takes the time and makes the effort, they can learn to slow it all down, to let all of that go, to Be StillSimply Sitting Still, we can connect with the vast, expansive, glowing, spacious stillness that exists at the heart of Reality.  
Stop. Look. Listen.


I don't think this particular gateway to mystical experience is all that removed from the actual experience of most, if not all, human beings.  Most of us can recall a time when simply sitting (or standing) still, being quiet, and opening to the sights and sounds around us changed the way we had been experiencing life a few minutes before.
 
A case in point:
 
My dad used to come home from the factory tired, but wired. Oftentimes, he was not in a good mood.  Yet, back in that day, even a union factory worker could afford to rent an upstairs apartment on a small lake in Northern Illinois --and buy a small rowboat and outboard motor.  An hour or so out in the rowboat, sitting still, intently watching the red and white bobber at the end of his fish line float on the surface of the lake, relaxed and energized him. He was a different man when he returned to shore -- at least for awhile. 

Taking on a regular meditation practice can be even more powerful, the effects deeper and more long-lasting.  As Practice deepens we not only can access a deep pool of tranquility, we can clearly see and heal the conditioning the prevents us from maintaining our clarity, ease, kindness, and compassion.  We may even make the Ultimate Connection and have a direct perception of the One Love. (my term for what some folks may refer to as God.)

It just takes Practice.  And Grace. (The "I" that is typing these words can't take credit for Reality being Reality.)

The Long and Short of It

Although adopting formal meditation periods (5, 10, 20 minutes, or more) into your day can be beneficial, I've found that extended periods of silent meditation, known as Retreats or Intensives, can be extremely valuable.  It can take time to really slow down and get quiet. I've been fortunate enough to participate in many organized meditation intensives over the years, ranging in length from one day to one month.  I've also done lots of personal retreats over the years, including a handful of seasonal three day liquid fasts.  (I'm hoping to do that again this spring.)  
 
Oftentimes, these retreats have allowed me to hit the reset button and return to my daily life calmer, clearer, and more energized.  A few times, it was even more impactful. I was able to open my heart and mind in a more complete way than before to the One Love.  Although in these times of COVID precautions it may not be possible to attend a residential retreat, there are more and more opportunities to connect with these resources on-line.  (I, myself, am looking forward to this Sunday's Be Still and Know, A Day of Mindful Practice which I facilitate on Zoom tomorrow. Click HERE for more info.)
 
Yet, if the truth be told, even a decision to stop what you are doing to take a few deep breaths can alter the quality of your consciousness and transform your day.  

There, in those precious moments, you may become of aware of the amazing 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 the time to be Present, you can get of your head and into your heart. Your next breath could actually take you all the way hOMe to your True Nature.

What are you waiting for?
 

2 comments:

Tamboora said...

thanks Lance. LUV every word of your text, including the ones you omitted to type :-) ~~~ u make me chuckle belly-wise. LA

Lance Smith said...

You're welcome.
Yeah. My bleary-eyed copy editing could stand improvement. I usually get it cleaned up a bit better over the course of a few days. LOL
One Love,
Lance