“Moving water distorts the reflection. Only in water that is still can a true reflection be seen.” – Zhuangzi (Chuang Tsu) – (4th Cent. BCE)
We live in a time of tumult. Hyperstimulation and agitation are everywhere and as a result, as we internalize the hyperstimulation and agitation of the world around us, it is likewise in us. There is no stillness. Yet without stillness, we cannot see clearly. Whether we are talking about the individual or groups or our society, as long as we are living in turbulence, there is no wisdom, no ability to see things as they truly are. Our society and our politics are upside down; materialism, sensationalism, and anxieties dominate our consciousness; lies are told promiscuously and being lived as if they were truth; commotion swirls the waters of our consciousness as we drink the murky waters. It is time for us to put down the cellphones, step away from the computer screens, turn off the TVs, and to stop, to breathe, to let quiet come over us to consider where we are and what we are doing.
The title of this column comes from the Bible, that edited says: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult… The nations are in an uproar; the kingdoms totter… Be still and know that I am God!” – Psalm 46
To properly understand this passage, we have to ask the question – What is “God?” The best answer I know is – What is not God? But we do not know that we are all God, meaning the miracle of Creation unfolding, the Universe happening as human beings. We do not know that our neighbor is God. We do not know that the birds and the wind and the rain and the sunshine are God. We do not know that all people and animals and plants and the earth and the air and the waters are God. We do not know that the sunlight dappling among the leaves is God. We do not know that the stars and all the planets and all the Cosmos are God. We do not know God because we cannot be still, and if we do not know God all around us, then we cannot see clearly that Life is not for profanity – it is for sacred realization.
And so, we do not know ourselves, nor do we know how to treat each other, or the animals, or the vegetation, or the soil, or the water, or the air of this world. We do not know because we cannot be still long enough to see, to hear, to feel Life in its sacred Beingness flowing within us and through us and through all that is. Call this God, or call it Tao, as did Zhuangzi. Call it Life, call it the Universe, call it Creation; we do not know this unless we are still, and until we know God/Tao/Life/Creation/the Universe, we do not know ourselves, and we do not know how to bring ourselves or our world to sanity, for sanity dwells within the realization of the sacredness of our lives and of all Life.
We can call it Zen, and over and over again the stories of Zen tell variations of a scenario in which an earnest student with a head full of ideas about Zen and enlightenment queries a master as to the entryway to Zen and is told to listen, or to look into some subtle aspect of the moment. This requires them to stop and focus attentively into the here-and-now of the moment; it requires them to be still. It requires them to ponder how can the sound of a stream or the wind or a thrown pebble cracking against tiles, or a flower or a pile of manure be the entryway to Zen and enlightenment? But they will be unable to really SEE or HEAR as long as their mind continues to spin, seeking the answers to their questions. To truly know Life requires them finally to stop all pondering to BE their looking and their listening, and only when not only the body but the mind comes to stillness, will they begin to KNOW, for in that absolute stillness they stop seeking and they find. Right here. Right now.
In the stillness we discover that we are the stillness. We are the silent intelligence which is consciousness prior to the ego that is always seeking something, even when the something is truth and enlightenment, let alone the stimulation and excitement that seem to be our world’s goal. In the stillness we discover ourselves as That which is Eternal. We discover that we are, in the words of Eckhart Tolle, “the space of the moment arising in awareness.” We discover “I am God” – meaning I am That which cannot be divided or separated. I am one with All, for All is everywhere and is me. This is what we find when we allow ourselves to be truly still.
In the stillness, there is no time, and all space is this space; the atoms of this body and of all forms are the original atoms formed in the Beginning. The consciousness that witnesses is the One Consciousness which brought forth All. We can begin to rest contentedly in knowing – I Am. The earth will change. The mountains will shake, and the waters will roar and foam. All commotion comes and goes. All excitement is fleeting. Attitudes and beliefs are shadows on the wall flitting by. In I Am our home is Eternity, and in Eternity all movement flows like currents in the ocean, and the ocean is the stillness that rolls quietly and forever. Know your Beingness and realize the Beingness of all people and all that is, and you will begin to know the truth of everything.
What is the sound of one hand clapping? It is The One Hand that brings forth all hands. It is the thunder clapping and the crickets and the birds and the wind and the water falling over stones. It is a dog barking or a cat mewing. It is our own breath and the rhythm of our hearts. It is salutations and goodbyes and conversation between. It is exclamations of joy and lamentations of grief. It is the shout of anger and whispers of comfort. It is an old song hummed softly or sung happily. It is music that touches your soul. It is the laughter, guffaws, and hushed tones of camaraderie. It is the baby’s coo and cries and first words. It is children playing. It is the sounds of home and community and work. It is our last breath.
The tumult and confusion of the world are passing shadows on the backdrop of Eternity, yet, every moment is a frame of Eternity, sacred and perfect just as it is. Stillness is the mystic’s realm, and from the stillness comes a time-honored lesson about how to speak and how to conduct our lives. It tells us that before we speak, before we act, we must let our intention pass through the three gates of truth, necessity, and kindness. Be still, breathe into it, and know. Let wisdom arising from stillness begin to guide you. You will know if you stop, become still, and ask before proceeding: Is this true? Is this necessary? Is it kind? You will know if you come to stillness to realize Wonder at the Miracle that is this Life, this moment.
Remake your world and begin remaking the world we all share by learning to step out of the tumult, the confusion, the falseness, to stop, to realize your life is happening, as all Life is happening, this moment in its reality, truth, and miracle. It only takes an eyelash’s blink, a conscious breath, to reframe into this moment where Eternity unfolds, to become still in your heart and mind, and know.