Focus of the Month: July 2022
written by Keith Porteous
How do you relate to stillness? For some, it is easier to stay busy than to pause and be with ourselves. As a parent, the end of school can be a manic time. A friend calls the month of May “Mayhem” because it can be saturated with commitments and busyness. Recently, I found myself in a hurry to make an end-of-the-year concert for my five year old. Finding a spot in the school auditorium right before the curtain opened, I sat down, enjoying the coolness of the AC in contrast to the increasing heat of summer. Parents around me finished work emails or navigated to find the best place for filming their child. When the curtain opened, I felt the relief that comes in not having anything to do, at least for 20 minutes. Just receive and enjoy. Children danced and sang surprisingly complex routines with earnestness and pride in their work. The last number struck me. As “Let It Be” by the Beatles played, a slideshow of the entire year was projected: face after face, creating art, learning music, learning to write, learning to be a friend. The rush I had experienced in the previous weeks collided with this moment’s message, ‘let it be,’ in a way that felt like a deep exhale. How valuable this simple message can be; this permission to appreciate and allow life to be as it is.
Summer can be a time to embrace a slower pace. Much like winter in colder climates, it can be a time to stay indoors, to simplify our living environments, and to return to internal practices. The word stillness comes from the same Sanskrit root which gives us the word “Sthira,” as in, steadiness. Neither steadiness nor stillness imply rigidity. We can experience dynamic stillness in allowing thoughts, feelings, memories and emotions to arise, be seen, and continue to evolve in curious ways. Even the word emotion contains “motion”: a reminder that our feelings are also part of the dynamic flow of life.
To me, stillness feels like listening. Slower practices, like restorative yoga, yin yoga, yoga nidra, SATYA and meditation can give us access to the richness that stillness can reveal. The teachings say that a true teacher lives in all of us. Our many practices, often guided at times by an external teacher, are intended to awaken this internal teacher. When we are worried, or hurried, we miss out on the invitation to connect with what is innermost.
Yoga Sutra 1.2 reminds us that whirling patterns of thought and stillness can coexist. Master Patanjalil calls the realized yogi a “seer,” as in, the one who sees. At times, if we are in a period of growth, it can feel painful to witness patterns, limitations or false beliefs which we may have unconsciously held for years,. Yet, the part of you that sees the pattern is already free. You have achieved enough distance and perspective to be the witness.
The word “atha”, meaning now, is important in the yoga practice. Now, you can choose what to deepen and what to release. Trust that seer. Honor your growth. Believe in the inner teacher. Look for what can never be lost in all the changes life brings.
If you find yourself in any kind of “mayhem”, whether it is an airport experience or a hurricane evacuation, give yourself the gift of cool and quiet and accept the invitation to let it be. If others are experiencing their own mayhem, perhaps be the steady, stable, still witness for them. As David R. Hawkins writes, “Have compassion for everyone…We all must struggle with the downside of human nature. Everybody is crippled in some area, and each of us is somewhere on the path of evolution.”
Learning to let it be also does not mean that action and engagement are not needed. At the time of this writing, our country is going through seismic political shifts involving everything from gun violence to reproductive rights. The invitation to stillness is a call to tend the garden of our own hearts first, so we can be effective participants in the greater conversations and communities we share. Be tender as you tend the heart, and tender towards others as they do the same. If you feel your own internal thermometer rising, invite coolness and stillness into your experience. Bear witness to what your heart cares about most. Wait for the quieter thoughts, beneath the whirling worry of the ‘citta-vrittis’, to be heard. They have wisdom and guidance. As Rilke writes, “Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.”
A. From Master Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras:
1.2. Yogaś citta vṛtti nirodhaḥ
Yogaś = Yoga (is);
citta = of the mind-stuff or mind-field, thought, the sum total of all workings of the mind
vṛtti = modifications, “a modification of the mind whose function is to manifest objects”, from the root vṛt = to turn, revolve, roll, move;
nirodhaḥ = restraint,cessation, cessation from the roots rudh = to obstruct, arrest, avert + ni, down or into
* The third of the four noble truths, or four “arya” truths:
Translation: Yoga is the cessation of the turnings of thought – Barbara Stoler Miller
1.3. Tadā draṣṭuḥ svarūpe’vasthānam
vasthanam – to remain
svarupe – your own undying, eternal self, “natural form, actual or essential nature, essence, from sva = own, self and rupa = form, shape or figure.
drashtu – the seer
Translation: “Then the Seer (Self) abides in Its own nature” – Swami Satchidananda
Commentary: “If the mind has a lot of waves like the surface of a lake, you will be seeing a distorted reflection. If the water of the mental lake is muddy or colored, you see your Self as muddy or colored. To see the true reflection, see that the water is clean and calm and without any ripples. When the mind ceases to create thought forms or when the citta is completely free from vṛttis, it becomes as clear as a still lake and you see your true Self.” – Swami Satchidananda
1.35. Viṣayavatī vā pravṛttipannā manasaḥ sthitinibandhanī
Translation: “Or (tranquility of thought comes) when the mind’s activity, arisen in the sense world, is held still” – Barbara Stoler Miller
Commentary: “Vision of subtle elements definitely brings higher personality changes in chittam, mindstuff. When chittam is changed from lower personality into higher, this change brings the mind to stability. – Shri Brahmananda Saraswati
“When even a portion of truth is realized directly, the whole becomes believable and reliable.” – Shri Brahmananda Saraswati
“Be still, and know that I am God” – Psalm 46:10
“In an age of acceleration, nothing can be more exhilarating than going slow. And in an age of distraction, nothing is so luxurious as paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is so urgent as sitting still.” – Pico Iyer
“Heaviness is the root of lightness. The unmoved is the source of all movement. Thus the master travels all day without leaving home. However splendid the views, she stays serenely in herself.
Why should the lord of the country flit about like a fool? If you let yourself be blown to and fro, you lose touch with your root. If you let restlessness move you, you lose touch with who you are.” – Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
“Serenity in the storm, keep calm, pray every day, make a habit of meeting the sacred every day.” ~ White Eagle
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” – Matthew 6:25
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” – Matthew 6:34
“I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” – Mark Twain
“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.” Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
“Have compassion for everyone…We all must struggle with the downside of human nature. Everybody is crippled in some area, and each of us is somewhere on the path of evolution – some people are ahead of us, and some are behind. In the steps we’ve walked are the old lessons of life, and before us are new teachings.” David R. Hawkins, M.D., Ph.D., Power vs. Force
“Patience and timing…everything comes when it must come. A life cannot be rushed, cannot be worked on a schedule as so many people want it to be. We must accept what comes to us at a given time, and not ask for more. But life is endless, so we never die; we were never really born. We just pass through different phases. There is no end. Humans have many dimensions. But time is not as we see time, but rather in lessons that are learned.” Dr. Brian L. Weiss, Many Lives Many Masters
“The evolution of knowledge is towards simplicity, not complexity.” L Ron Hubbard
‘Tripping over Joy’
What is the difference
Between your experience of Existence
And that of a saint?
The saint knows
That the spiritual path
Is a sublime chess game with God
And that the Beloved
Has just made such a Fantastic Move
That the saint is now continually
Tripping over Joy
And bursting out in Laughter
And saying, “I Surrender!”
Whereas, my dear,
I am afraid you still think
You have a thousand serious moves.”
― Hāfez, I Heard God Laughing: Poems of Hope and Joy
Skilled man can do with a
The advanced pilgrim can do with
One builds their own seat in the world
The only material
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.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
The inner freedom from the practical desire,
The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded
By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving,
Erhebung* without motion, concentration
Without elimination, both a new world
And the old made explicit, understood
In the completion of its partial ecstasy,
The resolution of its partial horror.
Yet the enchainment of past and future
Woven in the weakness of the changing body,
Protects mankind from heaven and damnation
Which flesh cannot endure.
Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness.
To be conscious is not to be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,
The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future.
Only through time time is conquered.
-T.S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton”
*Erhebung: The condition of being in an uplifted state, risen.
One Art by Elizabeth Bishop
The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
Next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.
Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.