This afternoon, I stood very still on the blue stone floor of my front porch, looking out the screen door at flowers and green and trees. Everything looked so still in the golden afternoon light, yet so much has changed—some of the flowers and even the slabs of blue stone I stood on were not here last year. I felt so still, and the flowers and green and trees seemed to be in the same state. Yet this stillness revealed that everything is always changing—beings and relationships and the whole planet are in constant movement.
Stillness is not silence. This is very clear this week because I can’t talk due to a treatment for a rare condition that often makes my voice husky and faltering (unfortunately not in a sultry way). Reduced to a faint whispering, I feel how oppressive it is to be unheard. And yet it also helps me discern important things. I see that the world rolls on quite well without many of my views and opinions. Most of them are superficial and not worth the huge effort it takes to rasp them out right now. I see that the true voice comes from stillness, comes from the awareness that connects us with life. I see that being connected in this way—inner life with outer world—is more powerful than anything I can say.
I think of the famous wordless sutra where the Buddha holds up a flower, directing those present to remember to be amazed at life. I think of the Buddha sitting still under the Bodhi tree, refusing to be moved even when Mara conjured terrible armies. Stillness was his power and his vehicle for awakening. Being still, he saw how everything changes.
“Many myths, sacred stories, and rituals are attempts to recreate a sense of stillness. This is their essence,” writes Swami Chetananda in Parabola’s Fall 1992 issue, The Oral Tradition. “Indeed, without some awareness of stillness, ritual takes on only its external approximation, becomes heavy and solemn. On the other hand, ritual that arises out of the experience of stillness is a light and joyful thing.”
In ordinary life also, words and actions that come from stillness can be infused with light and joy. Stillness is bigger than we think it is. Here for your reflection is the swami again: “Stillness is not the same thing as silence, nor is it like quieting the mind. It does not operate on a simply personal level. The stillness we are interested in knowing is always within us, even as we are within it, and we find freedom through our contact with it. As we become established in our contact with its power, we recognize that all our desires, wants, needs, insecurities, and tensions are nothing. Underlying every pursuit, and even our quest for meaning as a whole, is the longing for contact with stillness. When we have this, what more is needed?”
This week, if you wish, practice moments of stillness. See what may come when you don’t rush to speak, when you practice patience for a breath or two, when you are just with life instead of running ahead.