Last Sunday in our circle, we spoke more about the power of stillness. Solstice is approaching, the longest and darkest day of the year in this hemisphere, a natural time for stillness and reflection. Yet this is such a busy, anxious time for most of us. Even when we do manage to peel ourselves away from the centrifugal force of life and sit down to meditate, we can still feel the momentum. It’s as if we are afraid to be alone with ourselves, dreading what we may see.
At this time of year, I feel a little bit like Scrooge, terrified to see the ghosts created by the momentum of my own thinking and posturing and reacting. Karma literally means deeds and action, and sometimes when we are still we can feel the momentum of it. We can feel like Scrooge’s partner Marley’s ghost, wearing the chains we forged in life—caught in habits of thought and reactivity that we may not even believe in.
Being still is a quietly daring act. “Abandon all hope,” I said at the sangha. When sit down, we abandon the hope that we can escape from our lives. Yet when we dare to do this, we discover a deeper kind of hope or faith or aspiration. It is the hope that we can stop running, that we can be still and know that we are meant to be whole and part of a greater whole. Most of us have felt this at moments. It feels as if we come into a new alignment, as if we put down the chains of what we used to be or think we are and breathe free, in a loving exchange with life.
The ancient word “veda” which was so important in the Buddha (and long before) means both to know and to feel. It is knowledge coupled with the feeling of knowing. Last week in our sangha, someone asked if it was possible to feel rather than think since thinking is so quick to claim credit for, well, everything yet so damn slow. There is a kind of higher feeling that leads to the joy of knowing the truth and more—the joy or uplifted feeling the wonderful reality of it, that we are part of it.
For a long time, I went to Chuang Yen monastery in Carmel, New York, to listen to lectures on such things from Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi. First we would meditate in silence, and the monastery was/is so cold in the winter that we would in winter coats and wrapped in shawls. At the end of the meditation, we bowed, including several full bows, head to the floor. There is something about touching your head to the stone floor of a monastery that reminds you that another order exists, that another alignment with the truth of life is possible, one that doesn’t place thinking–or at least our frantic, ego-defending kind of thinking–on top.