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Saturday, October 17, 2009

The art of being still

I have made it a point in recent times, if possible, to spend a large part of Saturday doing nothing. Five days a week is spent in earning the daily bread, and Sunday is spent in myriad chores, so I say to myself, surely there must be some time for rest and recreation. In the Bible it is said that God spent six days making the world, then on the seventh day he rested. Jews even now observe the Sabbath as a day of rest. But I have noticed that the malaise of modernity is such that most people do not know how to rest anymore. Rest for most people means plonking themselves in front of the TV and watching mindless stuff that producers churn out in the name of entertainment. It seems we have a great need to be entertained but no ability to rest.

So come Saturday morning, after a leisurely breakfast, I sit on the sofa and do nothing. The view outside is very pretty, trees, grass, flowers, sky, clouds. Nature brings me into a state of stillness, maybe because nature itself is so still. In the beginning thoughts come, crowding together in my mind, kicking and jostling for the spotlight. After a while of breath-watching, I am able to detach myself from the thoughts and view them as I would watch a movie being played out on the screen of my mind. The trick is not to get involved in the movie. Thoughts have this great capacity to evoke emotion and this thought-emotion dance gets us further and further entrenched in the mental-emotional process.

So if I just sit and watch this movie, slowly it flickers and fades and I am left only with silence. Of course, thoughts keep gate-crashing, but the very act of observing them makes them go away because the mind cannot be in control in the presence of awareness. It is like the mist that disappears when the sun of awareness blazes. This silence is very liberating, it makes me light and joyous, calm and still, insights become clear in this stillness, like as if Wisdom itself is talking to me, sharing its secrets.

If we can access this stillness at least once everyday, we can carry it on throughout the day. We need the mind only to carry out mental tasks, logical reasoning, vocabulary, etc, but we need our innate intelligence that lies beyond the mind to do just about everything else. Living only in the mind most people live just mechanical lives, doing what is expected of them, by family, by society. They cannot see the sublime, the ethereal, the wondrous, in everyday life. They have lost touch with the magic in life that exists everywhere around us, with the magic that lies within themselves. Having lived their entire life in the mind and the material world, they are entrapped, unknowingly looking for that elusive something, but not knowing what or where to look, continuing with the rat race until deliverance comes in the form of death. They are like prisoners trapped by the bars of the world, gold-plated maybe, but bars nevertheless. Like Jesus said, “Of what use is it to a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul”.

I am reposting a story I had posted up a couple of years ago, which I had originally read in an old issue of The Readers Digest -

Some time ago (maybe 19th century) when the African jungles were still largely unexplored, an English explorer went to Africa for study and exploration work. He hired some locals to do the navigation and carry his gear and together they set out into the jungles. They would stay in tents during the nights and get up at dawn, cut through the bush, clear a path, do exploration, tent down for the night, next day clear some more bush, go forward etc. This went on for a few days until one morning the Englishman discovered that all his guides had gone on strike and had decided not to move from there for a few days. When he asked them the reason, they said "We have been working and moving and rushing on so fast that we feel that we have left our spirits behind. We need to stay in one place and get back into the rhythm of things so that our spirits can catch up with us".

So I spend some part of Saturdays doing nothing, catching up with my spirit, learning to be still, to just Be, from the trees, birds, grass...... This is my natural state, my authentic self, my true nature. In this stillness I lack nothing, desire nothing and yet have everything.