The Case For Stillness

Recently I was preparing to teach a morning meditation for a corporate retreat I was leading. My mind went through a generous menu of options of the different methods I could teach – breathing exercises, body awareness, visualizations, and more. I found myself gravitating strongly to the form I love the best, the one I learned from my awakening teachers: just sitting in stillness. It’s not glamorous. It’s not sexy. No pretty spiritual music, no gorgeous visualizations, no recording on a smartphone app. Just stillness. That’s it.

The reason it’s my favorite is that in the absence of noise, we can more purely turn our attention to the many facets of the diamond of the Divine. Through silence and stillness, we can access the Presence of Source; awareness of the Infinite; ever-present Divine Love; unending Peace; our True Natures, and more.

When I first learned this simple path, I had my initial period of adjustment, as many people do. And then I found I craved stillness. I craved silence. I missed gatherings with friends so I could spend a day in stillness. I went on a three-week silent retreat by myself so I could saturate and devote myself to silence and stillness. Later I helped my awakening teacher run his silent retreats.

But how do I introduce this humble method to a group of leaders in tech who have had zero introduction to meditation; some of whom are outright resistant? In their wildly busy lives, I knew that if I asked them to try to calm their minds it would feel like a Herculean task for them. Their minds are buzzing with problem-solving, lists of things to do, how to write that difficult email, how to mentor an employee, how to use limited headcount, how to communicate a vision for the company, how to help their child with a class project, etc. All important stuff.

Sure, I could tell them why it’s important. I could send them tons of studies on the value of meditation for mental, emotional, and physical well-being. I could talk about how it resets the brain and prepares it for better creativity and problem-solving. I could share a study that showed it can improve brain function when you haven’t had enough sleep.

But all that won’t help them in silent meditation when the busy mind sees a vacuum of empty space and frantically fills it with concerns.

Then I remembered how I found stillness and fell in love with it. I realized silence and stillness were always already here. I didn’t have to force my mind and emotions into stillness. I just had to recognize its presence… and then say yes to it.

The noise of life — things that need to be done, feelings that need to be felt, problems that need to be solved, etc. ­– it’s all fine, normal, and it’s part of living life in this body. Judging it or fighting against it will only cause suffering. The noise can be there. It’s just a matter of where we put our focus in a given moment — on the noise or the stillness? Meditation is a rare moment to give all attention to the stillness and silence that underlies all the stuff of life.

Most people get distracted in meditation — they get compelled to focus on the noise out of need, fear, or habit. It’s not wrong. It’s just that there’s another opportunity. I find that it’s an act of love to say yes to the stillness and silence. I feel like I get to say yes to it – what a gift! I am filled with gratitude to just focus on the stillness and silence, surrender to it, and rest in it.

And there’s no pressure for meditation to be perfect. Asking the human mind to perfectly focus on stillness will also cause suffering. You can say yes to the stillness. Then, a few minutes later, you might get distracted by a thought or feeling. Maybe that thought or feeling sincerely deserves attention; if so, make a promise to attend to it later. And then say yes again to stillness.

What a relief to put all the burdens, responsibilities, and roles down — even for just a few minutes! What a relief to return to our innate nature. What a gift to be in the presence of the Divine.

Ultimately, there’s an opportunity to be present with both noise and stillness at the same time in every moment of life, so that the choice to focus on one or the other becomes fluid and natural. It becomes simply about what is most aligned or what most serves in the moment. I find myself turning my attention to the stillness in all kinds of moments throughout the day, even when active – patting my cat, watering the yard, listening to a client’s report. The stillness is there, ever-present. And that investment of focused time in meditation is what allows me to feel its ever-steady existence and peace.

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