It was President's Day, February 17th, 1992. I was standing in the garden of my home in Oakland -- listening to the stillness of my own mind. A stillness that connected me with the garden, the entire Earth, and the Cosmos. I had just received a precious gift: stillness and peace of mind. I would be a fool to turn away this gift; but, I feared I would look like a fool if I accepted it. For we live in a culture of complexity, urgency, and a desire for always doing something.
The silence was deep and full. My mind suspended its normal chatter. There was a deep sense of total joyful aliveness. I had known this garden for almost14 years, but I saw the plants and trees as if for the very first time.
I wondered how to support this state of awareness, for I was working a job at that time that deeply uncentered and exhausted me. It seemed like a normal "job" or business venture would not help me maintain this state. The job, of course, soon, just went away! My entire department decomposed along with my position.
One of the petals of Buddha's Eight Fold Path is "Right Livelihood". A person cannot have peace of mind if his or her job deeply disturbs them. Sometimes it's better to be a dish washer than a corporate president. Peace of mind is not strictly defined by the particular occupation, but a certain relationship between duty, inner qualities, and the worldly results of the work.
Learning to hear stillness, the "silent music" of awareness itself is most difficult because it is non-doing in a world of doing, it is atonement with one's own sense of being.
"Center" is often a better word to use than "stillness." It implies that we can actively take our own "center" with us as we dance in the world. We understand what our center is when we have lost it, as when someone extends beyond her center of gravity and, then, falls. When I am uncentered (which is most of the time), I am running here and there. I may look still. But my mind can be darting all over the place. I feel uncomfortable and worried no matter what I do. I keep feeling that something else must happen first before I can settle down. You have seen this in a restless child that keeps squirming for find a comfortable position before going to sleep. This is the writer who keeps trying to set up the "right conditions" before getting down to writing.
Stillness is won by passing through layers of confusion or suffering. It's the turning of the mind 180 degrees from its normal mode of operation. Most people will not go through the discomfort of this process. They prefer a life of distraction to peace of mind. Bread and circuses are the spiritual pastimes of our age.
There is the story of the meditation practitioner who tried to avoid feeling jealousy over his wife making love to another man. One day he came away from his meditation session finally in touch with his feelings to such a degree that he killed the wife's lover. We can enter stillness from a disturbed state and come back out again to the same disturbed state. Meditation does not, by itself, cure our emotional ills. Once the heart is wounded by love, the injury may take a long time to recover. Be careful not to use meditation practice by itself as an escape from the work that must be done at other levels.
Most "yoga" is really about dealing with old memories that are embedded in the body/mind. One complete life has many "lives" within it. Is not childhood radically different from middle age? When we sit and first attempt to become still, memories of the past arise. Or, when someone does bodywork on us, memories come up in association with manipulations on the various parts of the body. We may remember a fall or fight from our first few years, tears will often arise.
For several years I have developed the custom among friends of "taking 12 seconds." In one interpretation of Vedanta the lowest level of concentration practice is achieved when one is able to focus the mind for 12 seconds. So whether I am sitting with a friend, or I am on the phone, I ask, "12 seconds?" They say, "Yes." Then we both together concentrate our minds on a point on the wall or a single thought or prayer. This clears the mind just a little, in the middle of the day's activity. A form of mental "traffic control."
At one very active company, I would do "12 seconds" with two or three of the regular employees. Even in the an open office space with many things going on, we were able to together support each other in experiencing the stillness of Being -- the same stillness that I found many times in the garden.