STILLNESS Eckhart Tolle : “Stillness is the language of God. Everything else is a bad translation.”
“In the beginning was the word.” A spoken word? A sound? Yes, perhaps a sound. The “ding” of a chime? Maybe even a big bang! And……before the beginning? Before sound? Silence. Stillness. Suggesting perhaps that creation comes out of stillness. I’d like to explore the quality of stillness this morning, to suggest some rewards for finding it and some possible methods for doing so. Stillness is the absence of sound. But it’s more. The dictionary says it’s also an absence of motion, a freedom from turbulence or commotion, peaceful. We find stillness in a mountain lake at dawn. Not a ripple; not a sound; we find it in the depth of a forest, or at night, just before the dawn. We seek this stillness and rest in it because it gives us relief from all the clamor of our lives; because it nurtures us.
We seldom realize the noise we live with until it stops. The silence seems to beckon us to its embrace. We may experience a sense a longing. At first it may not be clear what we’re longing FOR. But we feel it nonetheless. It’s in this stillness and this longing that we intuit the possibility that maybe there’s more; more than we experience in our “everydayness.” Maybe we’re missing something. It may be hard to put a description on what it is that we’re missing or longing for, but the feeling persists.
We even make a promise to ourselves that we’ll return to this place in nature and let it nurture us again. We equate the stillness of a place outside (nature) with a corresponding feeling of stillness inside because we got that feeling when we were in that place. Cause and effect; outside quiet produces quiet within. But it’s really the EXPERIENCE we’re seeking; the experience of peacefulness that we can actually feel. And we can’t always go to such a place. Let’s see if we can skip the step of leaving this seat to go find a still place in nature. It’s pretty quiet in here. Let’s see if we can make it peaceful. Right here….right now. Some would call this meditation, and I suppose it is. I prefer to call it simply “seeking stillness.” I’ll invite you back with the chime. (STILLNESS MEDITATION I, GUIDED)
For some of you this is familiar territory. For others it’s less familiar or even new territory. What happened for you? Was your experience positive? Negative? Neutral? Did it seem a little quieter inside? Did your body relax a bit? Did it feel good? Did you want to stay there longer? Or was it uncomfortable? Were you anxious to get back to “normal?” Perhaps nothing happened for you. Just notice your response.
It feels good to slow down and by practicing something like we just did we can learn to do just that. We’ll try a couple more times this morning. But it turns out that the state of stillness offers a great deal more than just relaxation. Remember my opening words (“In the beginning….”) and the suggestion that creation comes out of stillness? Listen to the words of some creative people. The actor Morgan Freeman says, “What I learn from the great actors that I work with is stillness. That’s all and that’s the hardest thing.” From Gore Vidal: “Many writers….. lose that stillness, without which literature cannot be made. And D. H. Lawrence: “One’s action aught to come out of an achieved stillness.” But creation as I’m using it here is not restricted to theater, poetry, or music. Listen to what some others have said. Hermann Hesse: “Within you is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.” Ghandi: “It has often occurred to me that a seeker after truth has to be still.” And these wise spiritual teachers alive, writing and speaking today: Paul Ferrini: “You access your deepest, truest self through your stillness.” Eckhart Tolle: “Your innermost sense of self, of who you are, is inseparable from stillness.” Byron Katie: “In our stillness we know where to go and what to do.” Jim Elliot: “The sound of gentle stillness after all the thunder and wind have passed will be the ultimate word of God.”
Word of God; true self; knowing; wisdom. Interesting. Perhaps this is why the place of inner stillness is also referred to as “the place of inner knowing,” or “the source of wisdom,” The suggestion here is of the availability of something not available in the world of rational thought. Indeed, those who have a real “AHA” moment of discovery or deep understanding report that it’s almost never the result of rational thought but seems to spring up from somewhere else. It seems to arise unbidden and how this happens remains mysterious, but many report a moment or few moments of “non thinking” (perhaps stillness) just before it appears. They seem to be able to make themselves available for it by doing or thinking nothing.
I’ll invite you again to make yourself available for that place in you, this time with a little more suggestive language. Again, I’ll invite you back with the chime. And remember, there’s nothing you’re “supposed” to experience, so just try to sit with whatever comes up. (STILLNESS MEDITATION II, GUIDED)
How’d that one go for you? Some peacefulness? Some irritation? Sleepiness? Curiosity? Wonder? We’ll be back one more time in a few minutes Here are some more quotes which I’ve collected over the years, the sources of which I’ve lost. Is stillness just the absence of noise and content? No, it is intelligence itself and it is not separate from who you are? True intelligence operates silently. Stillness is where creativity and solutions to problems are found.
Whenever you deeply accept this moment as it is – no matter what form it takes – you are still, you are at peace.
When you look at a tree and perceive its stillness, you become still yourself. You connect with it at a very deep level. You feel a oneness with whatever you perceive in and through stillness. Feeling the oneness of yourself with all things is truth.
Look at a tree, a flower, a plant. Let your awareness rest upon it. How still they are. Allow nature to teach you stillness. The still place within is the source from which you came. That stillness is also inner peace, and that stillness and peace is the essence of your Being.
These statements basically describe a mystical world view. Mystics have been with us forever and they are today but most of us don’t give them much credence, probably because we have been so immersed in the world of rational thought. Centuries ago, and for many people today, this was a respected, even revered view if life. Mainstream humans today dismiss it. The rational world view is necessary of course. None of us would have found our way here this morning to explore a different world without it. I’m certainly not trying to present arguments against it. Our intellect is a wonderful tool. But it’s not our ONLY tool. While it allows us to order our lives and get on with them, it isn’t creative and it’s woefully unequipped in the arenas of love, understanding, truth and wisdom. For these things we need intuition, heart, imagination, and these live in another world. The world accessible through the gateway of stillness. As a sidelight here…. it’s interesting to notice that people returning from a near death experience frequently report a perception very similar to that of the mystic. Where they saw separateness, they now see interconnectedness. Where they felt confused they now feel a deep understanding. Where they had felt fear or anxiety they now feel peace. More important, they KNOW that this world offers a glimpse of a deeper truth. While their experience gradually dims as they return to “ordinary life,” they never lose its memory. It remains as a reference point and a place of refuge. So if you’re really interested in experiencing this world of alternative reality get yourself a near death experience. If you can’t manage that, seek stillness.
I suspect that each of us accidentally gets an occasional glimpse of this other world . In a moment when we’re caught off guard by something like a beautiful painting, poem or piece of music; a sunset, a mountain top or a deep look into another’s eyes, or even when practicing the quality of stillness; and we feel dropped into that “other world.” The world of non-ordinary or what some call “spiritual” reality. It can be surprising, exciting, scary, even tranquil; but usually we hurry back to more familiar territory. Still, we never totally forget the experience. It stays around to remind us that there’s more to this human experience than we know. Much more. Perhaps this is the “longing” mentioned earlier. Now, if you’ll permit me, I’ll invite you to explore for a few moments the world of spiritual reality. It’s a partial description of this world and if you can really enter in you may even get an experience of it. If not, just observe. See what it looks and feels like to you. I’ll invite you back with the chime. (TREE MEDITATION)
At the root of all of this seems to be nothing more than acceptance. Acceptance of the world as it is, of other people as they are, and perhaps even of myself. From this place of acceptance I see the events and the people in my life as part of the rhythms of the energetic life force in which I live, with which I’m interwoven and interdependent. I belong here, in this life, it’s safe and it’s good to live (and to die) here. I don’t have a logical reason for saying this, but in my stillness I understand that this energy, this life force can be trusted. It’s intelligent. It knows, in some mysterious way, what it’s doing. So I can relax………There’s NOTHING to be afraid of. What might it be like to feel this way about life? Stillness suggests this: “Thy Will Be Done.” So I live in two different worlds. Each has its own reality…..and they’re both REAL. And…..as we peel away the layers of what we think we know of life, the last layer peeled away reveals……mystery…thank God Closing Words “Control is the opposite of Stillness. Control blocks the flow of natural creation. But tap into the Stillness Within, and you will tap into the all powerful source from which All That Is arises, and the source of creation will flow automatically through you.” Here’s a couple of items I cut: I see my fellow human being angry with me. I feel attacked. My fight or flight response kicks in. And then…..and then…. I remember. I remember stillness. I stop, take a long, easy breath, relax, and from this place of stillness I look again. I see deeper than the frightened face, the angry voice, the harsh judgment. I see the rigid muscles, the shallow, quick breath, the confusion. And beneath it all I see a wounded heart. From a place of stillness I see the truth beneath the apparent attack; the truth of the other’s pain; and I feel compassion. Compassion allows me to extend with great tenderness, my hand and my heart. Our words and our worlds get softer, kinder, nicer.
Here’s a story which I first heard from Gary Kelly many years ago and one with which some of you are no doubt familiar. It’s about a farmer whose mare returns one day accompanied by a beautiful wild stallion. The neighbors remark upon his good fortune. The farmer replies, “Good luck, bad luck, who can tell? The next day his son breaks his leg trying to tame the horse. “Bad luck” say the neighbors. “Good luck, bad luck, who can tell,” replies the farmer. The following week military personnel come by to conscript the boy, but because of the broken leg they do not take him. “Good luck,” say the neighbors. “Good luck, bad luck, who can tell,” replies the farmer. The story can go on indefinitely, but you get the point.
One more metaphor for the different world views. Standing on 33rd Street in NY City, it’s smelly, noisy, frenetic, uncertain. An elevator ride to the top of the EmpireStateBuilding, however, the same events appear quiet, orderly, natural,…even safe. At street level we would insist that we’re seeing the “true” picture. This is the rational world view. The view from above is the “spiritual” view. We’re not as likely to argue for the truth of this view. It’s just interesting. Here’s where the rubber meets the road. Standing on 33rd St. we feel anxious. Higher up we feel tranquil.
The creator of beautiful music “listens for the music.” The poet “waits and listens for the muse.” Where do these things come from?
It is a paradox that we encounter so much internal Noise when we first try to sit in silence. – Gunilla Norris with thanks to Friends of Silence Silence is a privileged entry into the realm of God and into eternal life. There is a huge silence inside each of us that beckons us into itself, and the recovery of our own silence can begin to teach us the language of heaven. For silence is a language that is infinitely deeper, more far-reaching, more understanding, more compassionate, and more eternal than any other language.… There is nothing in the world that resembles God as much as silence. – Meister Eckhart with thanks to Friends of Silence