Sunday, January 22, 2017

Finding Relaxation in the Stillness of the Present Moment

In a poem called East Coker, which is the first of four lengthy poems written by T.S Elliot called The Four Quartets, he wrote:

At the still point of the turning world.  Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement.  And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered.  Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline.  Except for the point, the still point,
there would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

We could almost think of Elliot's Still Point as the center of gravity where a surfer rides the wave.  Not really moving toward anything, or away from anything, but existing on a point of balance in the present moment.  The surfer dances atop the surfboard, but relative to it, is not moving.  And though the board stays atop the moving wave, the wave never leaves the surface of the earth.

In many Zen stories a comparison is made between the mind, and the surface of water.  A busy mind--it is said--is like the surface of rough moving water; but a still and calm mind is like the surface of calm water that has settled to the point of stillness, where--like the surface of a mirror--a bird flying above could be seen as a reflection in the surface of the water below.

But stillness is not easy to realize for many of us in today's modern world.  Trying to see the reflection of anything on the surface of our minds is getting harder and harder as people's minds are frequently distracted by the rough waters of the over-stimulating effects of technology and a busy world.

But, as Elliot said, "there is only the dance".  In other words, there is only this moment, "where past and future are gathered".  Stillness is getting more and more difficult for many who--when sitting themselves down to relax--find that the churning waters of their minds continue to move.

Finding your own place of stillness can take time, but it's important to work on it a little bit every day.  Slowing down the body in a fast-paced world isn't simple, but it facilitates the slowing down of the mind, even if it takes the mind awhile to catch up with the stillness of the body.  Tai Chi, Qigong, Yoga, Meditation, are all means to work towards this goal.

If you traditionally have a hard time sitting still, start by at least slowing down.  Try to slow your pace, walk more calmly, eat more slowly, or develop a slow and intentional ritual before bed or rising in the morning.  Try reading more slowly and intentionally.  Try grocery shopping more slowly.  Try everything from your morning shower to washing the car at a pace that moves your closer to stillness.

In time you may find that you become more accustomed to stillness.  But stillness is not just physical.  It's also mental, emotional, and psychological.  Stillness means to not always be looking for the next thing to do, or get, or be.

Another good poet by the name of Chris McCombs wrote in his poem, Go Deeper:

Go deeper
Past thought
Into silence
Past silence
Into stillness
Past stillness
Into the Heart
Let the Love
Whatever is left of you

Thanks to Hefin Owen for his great photo - Misty Sunrise Padarn Lake