A Moment to Experience Stillness

Cat, East German Castle

I’m overloaded with knowledge and weariness and unbelievable energy from my healing arts class, but I wanted to share just one slip of wisdom that I gathered today.

Without stillness, we cannot reap what we sow.

Maybe this is just stating the obvious, but when my teacher said it I found my pen scratching furiously across the page.

It is only by resting between yoga postures or during final savasana that we integrate the work performed by the moving body. The slumber of winter is necessary to rest the fields so that all of that reaping and sowing is possible. Only a quiet mind can make sense of the barrage of information that assaults it every day.

Stillness is one of those precious paradoxes. We know that we need it, but as soon as we give in to our desire to describe it, it vanishes like an unrealized, unrealizable dream. So many people skip though the years without ever pausing to assimilate the stuff that makes up their lives. It is more than possible to tumult through time at breakneck speed indefinitely, but what sort of shape are they in – mind, body, and soul – when they finally reach the end of their frantic race?

How do we cultivate stillness so that all the work we do as spiritual seekers, as healers, as people of compassion actually roots into the deepest levels of our true selves? Where do we find the space for stillness between doing our jobs and loving our families and recording our thoughts in all of these glorious words?

Before we can tackle the daily “how” it is important to first to come to terms with the fact that stillness is necessary at all. I do not believe that anyone else can convince you of that, but experiencing it just might give you an idea of why this crazy idea of doing nothing may just work.

  • Try to sit and listen to that every day symphony and cacophony that dances inside your head .
  • Give it time to play for a few maddened minutes, and then just let all of the extraneous sounds fall away. Focus on your breath, on the way you are settled into your seat, on the dark infinity behind your own eyelids.
  • When all that noise fades, notice what it is like to sit in peace, just for a moment.

Letting things just fall away may not be easy at first, and it may be scary if you think that silence in your mind means that you are sitting in some sort of void, but when you are really still, the mind is the safest place you will ever know.

I am hoping that a glimpse of the bliss that is stillness will be enough to convince us all that we just might be able to consider finding a few moments each day during which we can simply stop, we can simply be.

I just need to quit typing long enough to find it!

Witnessing this Moment

Do you feel it yet? Did it really happen? Can America actually have elected a black man running on a ticket of hope and change?

I know the realization has not seeped into my soul yet. I cannot integrate the events. I have not yet found a way to make it real.

When I visited my healer a couple of days ago, she followed her usual practice of kinesiology, or muscle testing, to discover words and concepts that resonate with me on a psychological and spiritual level. Usually they are ideas that trouble me, and this session was no exception: “experiencing my mind.” At first the phrases she comes up with almost always sound like they belong in fortune cookies, but they eventually make sense, even if I had never parsed my experiences in quite the same terms before.

My mind is my shelter and my weapon whenever the emotional world gets too hot. Refusing what my gut or my heart are trying to tell me, so often I try to muscle through on brain power alone. I resort to analyzing the situation rather than feeling it, I look for wisdom in the table of contents rather than in my own experience. Today, I jumped from website to website trying to find a way for the joy to penetrate, but could not find a way to truly feel my way through the moment.

Our worth in this world is so often determined by our perceived intelligence, by how swiftly you can take in information and sort it and use it for your own gain. The brain is such an inadequate organ, however, when you want to be moved and inspired by something so awesome and intense as Barack Obama becoming our next president.

There are a few brilliant moments in all of our lives, be it a marriage or a birth or an historic election that requires we do more than think about how everything just might change. This is one of those moments that must be fully witnessed, body and soul.

Wait, Can You Translate That For Me?

Tonight I had a chance to hear a lecture by Julia Kristeva, feminist, linguist, psychoanalyst, novelist, and general philosophical giant. I would say that she inflected my thinking during my brief forays into literary theory, but that would be to insinuate that I actually understood her writing enough to have an opinion. She was always one of those thinkers that I hoped to immerse myself in and understand – someday. This was my chance to do it, even though I had not picked up one of her books in years. Guess what? There is nothing like an hour of listening to incredibly long sentences uttered in a French-Bulgarian accent to make you feel like you an intellectual midget.

Most of the time I watched my brain flutter around, picking up a few sentences from the lecture and then despairing because I seem to have the attention span of a gnat. This woman was throwing around allusions to Kant and Heidegger and I was realizing that I could not focus on her brilliance for longer than 30 seconds at a time.

What has happened to my mind? Was I ever focused and attentive enough to be up to the task of fully comprehending a discussion of the existence of a unified European culture? Do I blame the Internet for shattering my consciousness into a morass of disconnected ideas, juiced up on sound bites and video clips, “cheat sheets” rather than newspaper articles?

I listened to Kristeva speak in a hall full of undergraduates. Some of them nodded as she mentioned the dead white guys they had probably just read for their survey courses. Some disrupted the ten people in their row to leave halfway through. As Kristeva talked of quadrilingual Europeans I wondered how many twenty year olds in that room could really read, never mind write, a poem in another language. I know that I certainly could not, and I wonder what the American intellectual climate will look like when people of my generation and those who follow us take up the intellectual reigns. Will we be able to truly bear witness to other cultures in the world or will we just teach our kids about this amazing global society that is almost completely navigable in English?

As our European counterparts begin to divide themselves into so many pieces that they are conversant in four languages, we seem to be slicing up our attention spans so that we can monitor four different windows at once. Is this just a different kind of schizophrenia? Is the Continental model focused on a valid multiplicity of identity while we are just swimming around in countless pools of English speaking triviality?

Perhaps I am being too hard on our country because it is so easy to be a critic of the world that nurtures me and just as easy to romanticize other parts of the world because, hey, I don’t speak the language!

It seems that at the very moment that the earth is becoming small enough to fit in the palm of one’s hand, it is growing stunningly out of reach. There is so much information in the world to absorb, we cannot possibly take in even the tiniest fraction. How can we figure out what to focus upon and how do we train our brains to be receptive enough for all that knowledge to matter?

Maybe I am mourning a hyper-intellectualism that we will not even miss. Perhaps we are moving to a more democratic discourse that does not demand a working knowledge of semiotics to gain entry. Is it possible I am just panicking because we are entering a new age when the academic signposts are changing and we all must get used to redefining nature and origins of wisdom?

Embracing the Need to Heal

Since I have started reading David Edwards’ Burning all Illusions, as I have discussed in the last two posts, it is amazing to me the new lens through which I gaze at my experiences. One of the topics that he has illuminated for me is the uncomfortable degree to which we are forced to bear the mantle of modern society, “the way things are” in that resigned fashion that is meant to excuse all of the excess or the pessimism or the difficulty that marks the age.

In accepting “the way things are” we must stomach living in a state of constant contradiction. We’ve all listed those ridiculous phrases that roll off the reporters’ tongues and only begin to fester in our ears when we take a little step back: “peacekeeping missiles” is the one I find most odious. One of the less neatly packaged paradoxes that we encounter all the time is the celebration of both senseless strength and fragile victimhood in our culture. On the one hand, we are told face the world with an aggressive, competitive stance, to quit whining and arm ourselves with a stiff upper lip (whatever that is – I notice it is my bottom lip that is most likely to betray me when I find myself on the verge of pouting or crying). Yet, at the same time, as Caroline Myss discusses at length, we use our wounds as currency; we let all of the bad things that have ever happened to us be our defining elements and we demand others recognize what we have suffered.

Images of soldiers in distant deserts on one channel and confessional talk shows on another.

A conversation with my chiropractor the other day brought my own struggle between these two poles into perspective. I have been visiting this network chiropractor for over three years for various issues with my back and have been to see him more often lately as I struggle with sciatica. After a month away from his table and almost that much time away from my yoga mat, I returned last week with that same nagging pain in my right leg. After my treatment we chatted for a while – he was telling me that I needed to come more regularly to deal with this issue and I was trying to express the fact that I had spent more than enough time in his office. Thing is, I know that what he does can work for me, but what does it mean that I end up “broken” again after only a few weeks away?

I am a healthy young woman, so how is it that visiting alternative health practitioners has become a pastime that eats up a significant portion of my “discretionary” income? I do plenty of yoga (or at least I do when I am not afraid of a forward bend damaging this cantankerous nerve I never knew I had until this fall) and I know how to breathe healing energy into my body. I’ve been practicing Reiki for years and I understand a good deal about the connection between body, mind, and spirit. What is it that makes me so passive in my healing process? How did I become so dependent on these people with their gentle touch and well-placed needles and singing bowls? I never thought I understood that old adage “physician, heal thyself” until I realized that I was applying “body-attuned creature, sort out your own aches and pains” to myself.

Upon expressing these competing concerns to my chiropractor, I think a moment of true understanding blossomed between us. It was not that I wasn’t committed to healing, it was just that I felt guilty plunking down a $15 copay a couple times a week instead of doing the work myself. As we talked, I realized that placing myself under someone else’s care did not make me weak; it just proved that we are all part of a connected universe that hums along by creating constant webs of interdependency.

The other thing that he reiterated to me, but which finally made some sense, is that the symptoms I experience are just part of my body’s reaction to stress. Previously, this just made me more annoyed with myself – what was wrong with me that I was not using the ample tools at my disposal to deal with this alleged stress? What was I forgetting to do that made it possible for all that stuff to get lodged in my vertebrae?

This was the moment that I recalled all that I have been reading in Edwards’s book. If I truly believe that something is out of joint in terms of how we live in this world, if we are forced to conform in millions of insidious, soul compromising ways, then it only makes sense that my body is under more pressure than a human form was ever meant to bear. Since I believe so strongly that emotions manifest themselves in the physical form, it seems inevitable that my body would find her own way to rebel against the ideas my mind is only beginning to comprehend.

I have spoken of compassion many times before, and it seems time to employ such lovingkindness in the way I treat this body of mine. She is neither soldier nor victim; she is my soul’s home that deserves to be cared for and understood.