Don't just do Something, Stand There!
The wonder of beauty, whether it be in art, music or nature, is that it can draw us out the 'life within our heads' in which the vast majority of us live, and bring us into the direct experience of life in the raw without the shadow cast by the memory of our past experiences or what we have come to believe life to be. We can suddenly become aware of an aliveness and a depth that takes us far beyond the sense perception of outer form that we normally take for granted to be to be the real world. This can be an amazing experience, but one that I don't think words can ever really describe.
But as soon as we attach a label to this experience ... 'ahh, a beautiful sunset' or 'hasn't that child got wonderful eyes'... we no longer see it as it is but as an object of mind, and then the aliveness and depth are lost as it becomes something 'similar' to what we think we have seen before. This intrusion of the mind onto raw experience is so automatic and fast that few are even aware it happens, and many can go from childhood to old age without ever becoming aware of it.
To experience reality, to know the truth of anything in fact, we must learn to set thought aside and become still. The natural world helps us to do this. It constantly calls us back to the simply awareness of 'what is' and 'who we are'. At every turn, life attempts to pull our attention away from our infatuation with our worries, our lists, our agendas and what we think is true.... urging us to "Don't just do something, stand there". I think this is what Leonardo da Vinci was talking about when he said -
Although nature commences with reason and ends in experience it is necessary for us to do the opposite, that is to commence with experience and from this to proceed to investigate the reason.” (via - Musings and Meanderings )
Strange as it may seems most of us go through life never experiencing life as it really is. Our over-active monkey minds ride roughshod over each present moment in our addiction to the past and future, and so we never become still enough to experience anything directly..... but instead we 'see' what we think is true. What we think we see is not reality but a reflection of our thinking mind - the human condition made manifest.
We have come to value intellect and the ability-to-think so highly that we are both blinded to it's limitations and oblivious to the alternate - to the joy, insight, love and right action that flow quite easily and naturally from the stillness at the core of our being. If you'll forgive me for rehashing words from the last post - To meet everyone and everything through stillness instead of mental noise is the greatest gift we can give. This stillness is the source of all real intelligence, joy and love.
So if stillness is the absence of thinking, it's as well that we be honest with ourselves about what 'thinking' actually gives us. Let's consider it's effectiveness at bringing us some of the things we want in life.
- Creativity. You must have noticed that the things we do really well we do without thinking - riding a bicycle, driving the car, neurosurgery, painting - excellence at anything is characterized by feeling and knowing. The less we think the better we seem to perform. In fact ask almost any artist, craftswoman or professional performing at their peak and they tell us that if they start 'thinking' they falter and mistakes are made. Whether it's a lawyer weaving together the threads of a defense, a programmer crafting an elegant piece of code or a mother in deep conversation with her child, they speak of an effortless feeling of oneness with what is happening and an inner knowing that faultlessly guides their actions, with no thoughts to disturb the direct experience of what is happening and their response. Stillness is the common thread that runs through all experiences of ‘flow’. Ironically as soon as a thought enters such as 'my God this is incredible' or 'aren't we doing fantastic', the 'flow' disappears.
- Happiness & Love. Think back to any moment in time, perhaps a day on the beach with pals, when you were truly happy. Whatever you were doing you were definitely not thinking. It might have been a time when you were super productive, working on a complex piece of code or manuscript. But if you cast your mind back it was more a state of feeling that you were in. We often associate 'happy times' with being around people who are close to us - lovers, friends, family. But the dynamic that is really at play here is this: It is when we are around people we trust that we feel safe enough to drop our guard and relax, and when we allow ourselves to be open like this we feel the connection that already exists between us all. Less thought more joy.
- Problem Solving. We don't solve problems by thinking, we create problems by thinking. 'Eureka!' moments happen not when we are thinking but when we are relaxed - in the shower, out walking the dog.... I'm sure you know what I mean...it's only when we stop looking for the car keys that we find them. Insight flows when thinking stops. We generally believe the thinking process to be synonymous with understanding, but we only really know something to be true when it moves from the head to the heart .... when we feel it as an awareness and recognition. Any problem we see in the world around us can be traced back to thinking. It's the thinking that generates the doubts and fears whose effects we look upon.
- Learning and development. Does a toddler struggle to learn to walk or learn a language. Of course not. A happy carefree mind doesn't have the added a layer of complexity between experience and know-how that makes learning more difficult as we grow older. By the time a child learns to ride a two wheeler the mind has already added friction to the process - you can see snippets of doubt and frustration creeping in that are not there as a toddler. Now fast forward 20 years and recall your own experience as an adult learning to ski or ride a horse or rock climb for the first time. Oh the drama of it all!... Once we have been taught the mental constructs we call 'success' and 'failure' it all gets very personal... a joyless 'mental activity' where learning becomes very difficult. It's only when we allow ourselves to relax and actually feel the skis on the ice or the horse between our legs that we even start to make progress.
- Success (by whatever criteria you choose). There was a recent Fortune magazine article, 'What it takes to be great' (via Lisa at Management Craft ) In a nutshell the message was that billionaires, maestros and those who stand head and shoulders above the rest in their fields are the ones that are willing to put in the ground work and practice harder. I authors probably looked at common characteristics amongst the individuals and then concluded that this was the cause of their extraordinary success, but in doing so I think they missed the mark completely. There are many who have practiced more and worked harder but meet with little comparative success. What defines those that are truly successful in any field is not effort expended but clarity of mind - at some point in their life (maybe subconsciously and maybe as a child) they came to a conclusion about what, above all else, they really wanted. It is this clarity of purpose that nullifies any competing goals and dissolves the mental friction of doubt, guilt and stress when we are torn between different paths. In this clarity of mind, you do what you do without question....there is less 'thought', and so work becomes play and practice becomes fun.
Maybe this has cast a little doubt on the value we place on intellect and the thinking process. Reason and consideration have there place of course, but we have been blessed with much sharper tools than these.
By valuing thinking over awareness we mistake knowledge for understanding, and therein lies our downfall. It is thinking that gets us so fixated on the world of form that we mistake it for reality - we see the surface form and overlook the energetic wholeness that animates the whole show. We see effects and become blind to causes. Not knowing any better we try to fix what we see, but we keep failing because what we see is merely the effect of a process that starts with us. Our frustration at our inability to fix our world just drives up the anxiety and fear as we feel more and more like powerless victims, and then this grotesque self-image becomes the breeding ground for yet more fearful thoughts which then just add to the chaos and confusion we seem to see 'out there'.
But when we embrace stillness a miracle starts to happen. We begin to feel and recognise the connection that exists between us - some call it Presence. Stillness gives us the opportunity to observe our changing thoughts and the changing perceptions of form without getting caught up in it all.... and that way we start to see and understand things as they really are. We also start to notice quite clearly that this Presence that is aware of these changing things is totally secure and unaffected by anything that changes - thought, body form, emotion or circumstance. It can suddenly seem quite ridiculous that we ever imagined our identity to be made of those transitory things we are now watching - some concept of thought, feeling or body. Enveloped in the loving embrace of Presence we recognise ourselves as we really Are - we become aware of ourselves as awareness itself.
Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to know." ......Winnie the Pooh
So it's not more thought we need but wisdom and insight... and for that we must turn to stillness. We imagine that if our mind were to let go of it's control on our life there would be chaos and suffering but in fact it's our attempts to swim against the flow of life, our resistance to what Is, that causes our stress and weariness. Suffering in all it's forms is simply a result of our resistance to change. But it's the nature of all form to change. We could say that life is a process of dis-illusion-ment, bringing us out of the illusion of our identity as a separate 'form' into the awareness of our form-less Presence - our true nature.
Endings help us see that endings are not real. Just as the sun never really sets it still appears that way from where we are stood.... but what a beautiful illusion it is, and what a beautiful way to awaken from the illusion that our life ends when the body disappears. The more we accept the endings in life the more these endings take us beyond the world of form into the spacious awareness of Presence, our Self.
If we could take a fast motion video of the life of all the things around us right now (the chair we sit on, the building we are in, our neighborhood and larger community beyond that) let's say over a 10,000 years period (a tiny 'space of time' in the scheme of things) but speeded up to say 5 minutes, I think we would find it both shocking and liberating. We would see everything we value both in this generation and the ones to come, crumble and fall to dust. Species, institutions, families, architecture, the artifacts of our heritage - everything - all to dust. Somehow I don't think we'd be quite so willing to cling as tightly as we do to the world of changing form.
When we eventually recognise and accept the fleetingness of all form we start to enjoy the world and the dance of life for what it is: a place we come to learn to let go of our imaginary 'separate life' that we hold within our heads and instead experience directly the wonder of life and our Self in it's fullness.
If you think about it.. ;-*) ..the story of our lives is always some form of external searching - we memorise and recount our successes and failures in getting the things we think will make us happy and secure. It is a story that stretches from the past to the future without every stopping to see what is here right now in front of us. We seek for love in others, unawares that Love shines naturally from us through the gaps between our thoughts if we would only stop resisting 'what is' and be still.
Love has no form, and so the only way that love can come into our life is through the formless - through the spaciousness of each present moment that we allow to break the continuity of the story of our lives. We wonder why love doesn't last yet we keep looking for it in a landscape of ever changing things. But when we start to embrace the love that comes from the core of our Being in each instant of stillness we see that there is no way it cannot last, and we see it reflected in every relationship we enter into.
As our concept of 'home' shifts from the physical world to the space between our thoughts we find a whole new lightness of Being that we thought we had long forgotten. Life just doesn't seem so serious anymore... and there's a sense of well-being and knowing that things can only get better from here. We don't need anyone or anything to change for us to be happy anymore.
But how to get started? Here's a way that may be helpful:
Whenever we meet anyone or anything there is always an instant of stillness before the first thought or judgment arises and an opportunity to claim this moment of true recognition before the mind has chance to grab control. If we are willing to hold onto that moment an incredible field of opportunity opens up. This present moment starts to expand and take on a life of it's own. Happiness, insight and wisdom spring naturally from a still open mind. It is here where our treasure lies - our safety, happiness and the answers to all our problems. By placing just a little trust in stillness, it repays us a million fold.
But the difficulty we have in accepting and implementing this is that the mind that is predicated on fear resists all attempts to become still. So to me, the best approach is simply not to think about it but just dive in and have a go, and accept that the mind being what it is will resist. Confidence comes through experience. By allowing ourselves to meet in stillness and experience the connection that already exists between us, we become aware of our shared Presence and in doing so recognise all our fears are unfounded. We recognise ourselves as we really are and heal the cause of the human neurosis at the same time.
Change always happens on the inside. This decision to be non-resistant to life, to be open to experience life fully just as it is, is in fact the basic decision that we make to be happy. When we commit to this decision everything that happens and everyone we meet takes us deeper into the source of true Love that is dependant on neither circumstance nor form for its existence. Then what flows from that can only reflect Love. We have changed the cause. And by choosing to 'be the change we want to see in the world' we become truly helpful.
- Finding Flow by Letting Go
- The little book of Flow (draft).
- So you want to be a genius, huh?
- Blogging's hidden jewel
This started out as a response to Dave Pollard's post "What's Love Got to do with it?" - I was going to write something in Dave's comment section but I had a problem formatting text there... and then I got carried away. ;-)
... I don't think there's anywhere within the framework of our language (based on the central notion of duality - a subject and an object) to adequately describe what is forever undivided and unbounded.
... The 'thinking mind' has us believe that it is this 'doing what we really want' that brings the joy, hence many lifetimes are spend searching for what we 'really want'. This is just another illusion that learning to be still dispels. The source of the joy is never from the thing itself but from us. It is in doing the things we love that releases the need to think and we relax - we 'feel' our way through the surgery, the composition, the piece we are writing or the code module. The joy is always there within us - it's just that it's able to shine through in the white space between our thoughts when we let go of the need to think.
... There is great freedom in this. When we savour the moment, thought cannot arise to disturb anything and in that peace comes clarity and understanding, and then in this heightened state of awareness right action happens automatically. True Love is not blind, it sees more not less. And whatever is needed is just there - whether it be a word, a thought or just a tranquil open mind. This is where true communication happens - communication that can be healing.
... It is after all just doing it's job - looking after the 'me' I think I am.