Stillness (written 2002)
Before I began meditation practice, I had conversations with people about my intentions. And a common comment was some variation on “I tried that once, but I can’t stop thinking.” What I had read about meditation suggested to me that stopping thinking was not the point, but I did not know how to express what I thought the process was. I had only read about it. Afraid to venture in, worried about “doing it right”.
Eventually, I did begin. And, yes, a restless mind was and is a hindrance I deal with. But beginning again and again, and understanding that this beginning again and again is what the practice of meditation is, I discovered that the first reward of persevering is stillness.
Once, before I began a meditation practice, my sister was visiting. At that time we both had very small children, babies and toddlers. She sat down at the end of the day when they were all finally bedded. And I got out the pail and mop to clean the kitchen floor which had seen its usual number of spills and dribbles that day. Watching me, she laughed with affection and said “You’re obsessed.” And I smiled, agreed, and mopped the floor. To me this memory moment is symbolic of my behaviors prior to the changes that mindfulness and meditation brought. I did not know how to be still. I even taught “time management” classes from time to time and prided myself on my organizational skills and efficiency in “multi-tasking”.
Mindfulness is the practice of being here in each moment. The masters say “When you eat, just eat.” “When you do the dishes, just do the dishes.” And this seems from outside to be silly and simple, or too profound, a code the ordinary person can’t understand. What does it mean? The formal practice of sitting in meditation helped me to experience what this means. To be still. To just breathe. To just listen. To note the restlessness, the itch in my foot, the pressure of my knee on my ankle, the strange strings of thought. And to be still.
This was the first gift of meditation. And the center for me now. A gatha (poem) I like very much by Robert Aitken goes like this:
When I feel I haven't got time
I vow with all beings
to light incense, and making my bows,
touch the place of no time.
When I sit and breathe, I enter that place. And making it familiar, I can call it up again during the day when schedules and chaos, irritations and deadlines intrude. I breathe. And I am connected, still, whole once more.