In the first four practices of the heart we began clearing, listening, and building the qualities of heart that will allow us to open to the heart’s true function—to give and receive love. In the next practice of The Chalice, we will explore this glorious exchange of love deeper. Yet before we can truly begin to work with a healthy exchange of love in the heart, we need to cultivate the stillness and peace that is its foundation.
Just as the waters of the lake find their greatest clarity and reflection in times of stillness…
…it is only from a place of peace in our hearts that we can truly reflect light.
It is only from this place that we can know the love that is the heart’s true currency.
The great clarity that we seek, the ability to feel that there is a presence and a purpose guiding our lives, the ability to navigate the changing waters of circumstance, and to reach a place of fullness and wholeness in this world, comes solely from this place of sublime stillness and reflection. We cannot reach it by rushing after it. We practice instead deeply settling into the heartspace—anahata, the supreme stillness, the unstruck center. It is from here that we find the heart we want to follow. Here is the dwelling place of the true heart.
If we don’t cultivate this stillness it becomes very easy for us to confuse a turbulent heart with a true heart. Many times we think that the turbulence—the great waves of feeling that drag us off anchor and cast us about—is the stuff of love itself. But this storm of the heart is not the full story—just as the wind on the lake clouds its waters, so we cannot know our true hearts if we allow them to be all storm and no stillness. It is a great work—as the early yogic seers knew full well—not to confuse the waves with the lake itself.
Patanjali’s Samadhi Pada illuminates this in one short line that is worth reflecting upon and practicing for the rest of our lives. After making clear that Yoga is the practice of stilling the fluctuations of mind and heart so that we can abide in our own clear, true nature, he cautions:
otherwise, there is identification with the fluctuations instead.
Sometimes we live life as if the waves are all there is and never know that stillness is an option. Other times we know mentally that peace in the heart is a good idea, but it remains in the realm of the conceptual, and all the while we live our lives in a way that directly clouds our waters and creates more waves.
One of the biggest obstacles to creating peace in the heart is the notion that the waves of the heart, those surges of emotion and feeling that alternately lift us up to great cresting heights and dash us to pieces on life’s jagged rocks, are the good stuff of life. We consider these highs and lows to be the source of great art, the raison d’être, the very poetry of what it means to be human.
I lived my life this way for many years, and as one who followed a stormy heart to the highest swells and the lowest trenches I would like to offer this: Peace in the heart does not limit the passionate strokes through which the artist applies paint to the canvas of life—it allows both greater vision with which to see the canvas, and greater skill with the brush. Peace in the heart does not keep me from shouts and exultations as I run across high mountain ridges, nor does it limit or confine my expression of love to my friends, to my partner, or to my Lord. On the contrary, peace in the heart opens us to the trueness of love.
We can’t force love, we can’t run after it, we can’t create it, re-create it or even modify it. The love to which our true heart seeks to harmonize is the Great Love and it is not of our making. So rather than try to force love, we cultivate peace.
As we do so, we find our hearts become like the clear lake that receives the light of the world at dawn and gives it back for all. This is how we open to love—from stillness and peace and the desire to reflect that which is good and eternal.
For a word that is found on bumper stickers and in pop songs and on the lips of nearly every conscious person in the world, peace is something that is rarely actively practiced.
And, as we explored in The Rose Garden, good qualities need to be actively cultivated in our hearts. It’s not enough to pay passing verbal acknowledgment to the importance of peace. We have to live it.
In The Lake, we go into exactly what it means to practice and cultivate peace in the heart.
To cultivate peace, we have to want it.
There are many, many practices designed to bring peace in the heart. None of them matter if we don’t truly want it.
It is not an exaggeration to say that a very large percentage of the people who say they want peace don’t want it at all. Personally, I had to go through a thorough dismantling of what I thought this life was all about before I was ready to begin the cultivation of peace and patience. These are some of the questions that I had to actively wrestle with in my heart:
Do I truly want the still and serene rather than the flashy and loud?
Do I truly want the long term rather than the immediate?
Do I truly want teachers that are quiet and humble and teach patience over those that radiate like their own sexy suns?
If I had the choice, would I truly choose simplicity in my life over acclaim and adoration?
How do I react to the word ‘patience’? Does it resonate as deeply with me as the word ‘passion’ or does it send me screaming for the door?
It is good to take a deep, honest assessment of our attitudes towards stillness. For even those of us on a spiritual path live in a world in which this quality is not cherished as a prime value.
In the befuddling tapestry that our society has woven of what the ideal man and woman are supposed to be, stillness is nowhere in the picture. The ideal man is a success machine, driven and bold and confident and powerful and financially secure and sexy and the perfect father, all at once. The ideal woman faces an even more impossible task, expected to have won the heart of this ideal man and excelled at her perfect career, all in time to produce one or two beautiful and academically stellar children by her late 30s. Along the way, she is supposed to maintain a perfect body and goes through all kinds of self-mortification to do so, and, for her efforts, she’s ‘rewarded’ with shopping and spa vacations and wine and other immediacies that feed the waves of her obsessive thought-cycle anew.
Sadly ‘yoga’ has in many ways been subsumed into this ideology, becoming another accessory along the road to ‘more’ rather than an instrument to help us simplify.
In both scenarios, we are measured by output, by that which we produce in this life. We hold a checklist of accomplishments, on which our very identity hangs by a thin thread. If we don’t achieve one of the items on the list, we become restless, we feel like failures, we feel cheated by life, and we feel like we have do more to make up for this lack.
Yet peace is never found through achieving a certain quantity of output nor is it found through the rewards that such output brings. To assume so goes against the entire spiritual structure of reality, as expounded by so many of the great teachers and directly mirrored in the lake of the human heart.
The beauty of the lake is measured by its stillness, its quality of reflection, and the fact that it rests just as it is, a sublimely contained whole.
As Christ illuminates in many of his central teachings, the universe operates in a system of free exchange of energetic and physical currency between people, nature, and divinity. Many of his parables center around teachings of quantity, and problems inevitably arise when people take issue with their apportioned amount, failing to see that in the real currency of love, there is plenty for all. His miracles—which quite often have to do with providing sufficiency where before there was lack—arrive at times when people open to that true currency. In stillness, in trust, and in opening up to love, there is, quite simply, enough for everyone.
Peace is the deep understanding of this sublime sufficiency.
Yet how many of us feel that we have—right now—total sufficiency? Instead, we often behave as the grumbling naysayers in those parables, questioning exactly why the universe distributes its bread and its water in the way it does, why laborers who came to work late are paid the same that the ones who came first, why the universe isn’t tipped in the direction of fairness to us and reward for us and indulgence of our needs. We question the providence of the universe for failing to reward our immediate desires to the point that we even question whether there is such a thing as grace.
Can we not lift up our eyes to see the Sun? What greater definition of grace is there than this star of all life?
Grace is the daily return of the sunlight that grows the food that feeds us, and peace is to be content with the seasons of that light, the portions that these seasons grant us, and all the gardens of lack and plenty along the way.
Instead of indulging in the ultimate futility—trying to force the divine, the source, to tip towards us and our individual lack and want—we need to align ourselves towards the divine and its sublime sufficiency.
In The Lake we work to do just this.
The Shiva traditions of Kashmir and the Mahamudra traditions of Tibetan Buddhism speak of the lake of consciousness. This lake is real and we are it. We are the water of the lake of consciousness, we are the mirror of that lake in trueness.
We sit in the trueness of these waters, simply, and in peace. We practice being the lake, receiving from the unlimited source, calming ourselves, and reflecting light. In this place of sublime sensitivity, we get in touch with how truly clear and still the waters of our hearts are.
We start to look, honestly and deeply, at all the behaviors and tendencies that cause waves and that cloud the water. What causes the most waves; what disrupts the clarity of the water? Who are the people that stir waves in us, and who are the people that calm our waters? What are the substances that cloud our hearts? How often do we use them?
If we go to one yoga class per day and then have two drinks after work, we are spending more hours of our lives under the influence of alcohol than we are practicing. Are we cultivating more cloudiness in our hearts than clarity? How much of a priority is peace?
The heart is the lake of sublime, clear sensitivity, and the ripples it registers come from everything we put out and everything we take in.
One of the greatest lessons of peace is that peace is the medium itself. Peace comes to our lives from building a structure of peace and adopting a lifestyle of peace. If the structure of our lives is completely built around rushing and output, it doesn’t matter how many weekly yoga classes we attend to ‘calm our minds.’ We need to build peace from the ground up, and this means recalibrating the scales of what we consider more and less, plenty and lack, to their true balance.
What we think is more is not more. What we think is lack is not lack. Any ‘more’ achieved through ‘more’— more stress, more rushing—is not, in terms of spiritual fulfillment, more. The purpose of this life is not to try to transform our stress into a new car, or a new house, in hopes that once we have cashed in our stress we will find peace in these new acquisitions. A house built from stress will be a house of stress. A house built from peace will be a house of peace.
Sometimes it takes many, many years of building elaborate life-structures of stress and pain before we deeply understand that the way to receive more is not to go after more but to slow down and actually receive it. We don’t receive by chasing after. We receive by receiving. We don’t harvest plenty from singing songs of lack. We harvest plenty by planting it.
The way to be hungriest is to overeat. The way to crave the most is to have the most. We live in a culture in which all is available to us anytime we want. And this makes us the most wanting and the most lacking of peoples. This is the supreme simplicity of how spiritual reality works.
In the practice of The Lake, we commit to find deeper sources for our nourishment. We practice being fed, the way a lake is fed, from inexhaustible sources. We practice peace, and patience.
One of the primary ways to develop peace and patience is through the practice of pace.
The heart is an organ of pace, and the rhythms of the physical and spiritual heart mirror the pace with which we live our lives. In order to start the journey towards patience, we need to retune our hearts to a pace that is in line with the natural world—with the sun, the moon, the seasons, and the natural cycles of abundance and lack.
We connect with the breath. The breath is a mirror for how we live our lives. If we want to cultivate peace in our lives, peace among our fellow human beings, begin by cultivating peace in the breath.
We directly meditate on the lake of consciousness, feeling the sublime sensitivity and stillness of our hearts. We expand our awareness of the heart’s waters outwards, until it becomes a vast clear expanse in which every ripple is magnified, and every sensitivity greatened.
We practice peace by feeling peace.
Feeling the stillness of the water, the warmth of the light… What can we do, in our lives, to better reflect this glorious light? How can we bring these waters to stillness?
Over time, we can build stillness by working very directly with the reaction point, the point at which peace gives way to restlessness, where the latent energy in stillness starts to break into a wave of reaction. We directly work with this point in order to extend our heart’s capacity for stillness.
There are some very simple ways we can do this.
When we first become hungry, we can wait a bit longer than we usually do before we eat. Rather than jump at immediate satiation, we just sit with being hungry for a little while. Most human beings throughout history have had to spend a good part of their day with the sensation of hunger. And most of them were a lot more patient than we are.
When we do eat, we can take a pause and honor the divine source of that food. Every single time we take food we take a breath or two and give our gratitude back to the sun and the water that made the meal possible.
When we are in a conversation and have the urge to put our opinion forward, we can practice waiting one or two breaths longer to respond than usual.
When we practice asana, we can hold the poses—particularly the ones we find challenging—for one or two breaths longer than we initially want to.
When we need to make a big decision, we can wait a full cycle of the moon before doing so. We can sit with it, and feel how it sits in the waters of our heart and how that feeling changes over time.
We can practice works that require patience and that put us in touch with the natural cycle of time—like gardening.
All of these simple practices tune us to a very basic reality—that ultimately, we are not in control of the great tides and rhythms of this universe, and our greatest peace comes from letting go of the immediate and aligning with the greater.
And here we find the truest meaning of peace.
Peace comes from the daily practice of trusting the greater.
Trusting the greater does not mean trusting that everything is going to work out great for us, exactly how we want it to. Trusting the greater does not make our families safer, or make us less likely to contract a terminal illness. Trusting the greater does not mean that we will be treated with relative fairness on a scale that we get to set the terms on.
Trusting the greater means trusting the greater means trusting the greater. Come what may, we surrender to the supreme. The way the newborn is totally aligned to the mother in body, heart, and spirit, so are we to the mother of all creation… for the simple reason that we have no other choice.
Primordial shakti, terrifying and beautiful beyond measure, the great mother of all that is. We are in her care.
Throughout our day, when we feel ourselves at the reaction point, we can simply repeat this phrase:
“Thy will, not mine, be done.”
What brought us here and what will take us from here is far greater than us. And we are blessed to have been the product of the confluence of these universal forces.
What great force was it that cast up mountains and threw down valleys? What great pillars of fire and grindings of ice shaped the great basin… so that the lake might just sit? And be. And be still.
May we know this lake of peace, and may each of us reflect back the goodness of the One, in our own way, in our own time.
Editor: Lynn Hasselberger