“Within yourself there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.”, Herman Hesse wrote in his novel as he contemplated consciousness and the best way to approach understanding reality. It is a lovely sentiment, but it may be surprisingly challenging to reconnect with the inner stillness in this productivity-obsessed era.
Another of my favorite XIX/XX century poets, Reiner Maria Rilke called for “idling with confidence, with devotion, possibly even with joy”. I’m afraid, in the XXI century, Rilke’s words come across as humorous, perhaps even ironic. Our society seems to value highly the perpetual motion and accomplishing more in less time. It discounts the non-doing that allows for gathering of the necessary inner resources. I’m afraid, we are slowly depleting ourselves as a society. When depleted, we may begin to diminish our capacity to feel and to enjoy life. That is exactly why it is of such an importance to create a space for the inner stillness. A place where we can retreat and nourish our body and soul.
THE KEY LIES IN NON-DOING
My own exploration of stillness led me to uncover deep layers of escapism, restlessness, and the toughest of all, guilt. The discovery process has been non-linear. It bears resemblance to taking a boat towards the middle of the lake. The destination is not a precise point in space, yet you know when you’ve arrived. As Alan Watts pointed out, “we don’t become still by attempting to be still, but by leaving the mind alone”, for it is an exercise in non-doing. It is simple, but it is not easy as the conditioned mind wants to strive to achieve the new goal. Here is how it is happening for me:
- Create time for yourself away from distraction and step out from your current reality. Sit still and follow your breath.
- Orient awareness from center outwards to meet the inner sensations and watch what wants to transpire. Let the qualities unravel just the way they are. Let them affect you. Observe the sensations without judging. Surrender.
- Do not label the sensations, just feel into your internal “weather patterns”. When you are trying to describe something, you become removed from it. Let the feelings be, let them come, don’t welcome anything, don’t avoid anything.
- The qualities are the expressions of you and you just need to provide space for them to be. Ride it out for a little bit and then let it go.
IT TAKES COURAGE
Being present with stillness may initially open up a rawness in you. It can take you to a place of longing and temporary unrest, as it tears through years of suppression. It takes courage to step away from the doing and into the uncharted territory of vulnerability. Just hold the gates wide open and allow the sensations to arise, observe, feel, acknowledge, let go as best you can. Sometimes, painful memories may remind you of the unresolved pain. You may even feel stuck. Just hold the space for the sensations. How would you express what you are feeling without projecting at others?
INHABIT YOUR EXPERIENCE, FEEL THE MAGIC
Paradoxically, the emotional (and physical) pain is a sign of vitality, for if we are traumatized we do not have the luxury of feeling, not even the pain. As Friedrich Nietzshe memorably put it: a fulfilling life requires embracing rather than running from difficulties. Own your experience, the good, the bad, and the ugly. The pain will eventually subside after it’s expressed and if you allow the stillness long enough, the magic will begin to unfold.
Few days ago I received an email from a friend and in it he said “the window of opportunity is now”. This one sentence struck me and I realized on a deeper level that there is a tremendous potential in every single moment. In every littlest now there is an invitation to reconnect with the soul through stillness, an opportunity to inhabit the experience. And when you do reconnect with the deepest sense of self, it may seem like the moment is expanding to infinity, the sensual perception is heightened and all seems exactly as it should be. From that place, you will see our purpose more clearly and love the world more deeply.
Be still and know, my friends.
In all the mountains,
In the treetops
Not a breath of wind.
The birds are silent in the woods.
Just wait: soon enough
You will be quiet too.
~ Robert Hass, “After Goethe” from Time and Materials