May 1, 2013

Do You Know What Stillness Means? ~ Morgan Webert

We’ve all heard references to “calming, quieting, clearing or bringing peace to the mind.”

As many times as I’ve heard such phrases, only recently did someone challenge me to ask myself how well I really understood what it meant. You’d think studying yoga for ten years or sitting in a silent meditation for ten days would provide ample time to grasp this most pervasive idea.

No doubt I’ve felt a still and peaceful mind—in savasana or Vipassana meditation, whilst surfing or finding a steady forearm balance—but not until I took an eight-week course on the Yoga Sutras with Michael De Manicor did I intellectually look deeper into what stillness really implies.

The second sutra, perhaps the best known of the Yoga Sutras, is often translated as “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.”

In other words, yoga is stilling the mind, influenced by Buddhist philosophy. I, like so many others, took this at face value to mean stopping the mind and thoughts. De Manicor insists that this is not what the sutra means.

Key to his point is realizing that stillness is always relative. Let’s, for example, look at two people sitting next to each other on an airplane: relative to each other they are still, but relative to the earth they are moving hundreds of miles an hour.

As I thought more about this I began to see stillness as synonymous with harmony, cooperation or union (another yoga catch phrase).

When two or more things move in the same direction, at the same rate, toward the same purpose they cooperate or harmonize and generate a sense of stillness between them.

This could apply to people in an airplane, strings on a guitar or thoughts, breath and movement. When I further applied this idea to myself, or any other individual, I decided that another synonym for stillness was focus (epiphany light bulb: dharana). I examined the moments when I’d felt a sense of mental stillness and realized that my thoughts didn’t stop but that every part of me was focused on what I was doing; all of my thoughts, movements and breath cooperating and harmonizing.

Mental stillness, therefore, does not mean that the mind or thoughts stop, this would perhaps be death or at least serious stagnation, rather it implies we can choose thoughts and actions that an any given moment cooperate, and by working together create a sense of relative stillness.

So lately in asana practice, in my classes and in life I’m viewing struggle or mental clatter in a slightly different light.

I’m asking what thought or action is out of sync with this moment to cause the internal discord, and what thought or action can I replace it with in order to generate harmony and thus lead me closer to a feeling of stillness.


Morgan Webert is an avid yoga student and teacher from Colorado. She currently lives and teaches on the Northern Beaches of Sydney. You can find more info at: www.yogawithmorgan.wordpress.com.


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Asst: Terri Tremblett/Ed: Bryonie Wise

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Stacey May 8, 2013 11:42am

beautifully written! I love this view of stillness. It brings clarity to the moments that I have felt stillness and the moments have have tried to force myself into stillness and have felt the opposite. I love the idea of aligning pour thoughts with motion as we are always in it.
shasin sister.

Barbara May 1, 2013 10:49pm

Lovely writing. Made me more aware of how I get to that still, calm place. For me it's in movement, asanas, and my time in nature when I feel in harmony with the natural world. I can try to recreate that stillness when there is too much external or internal clatter. I just need to remember to do it.

Montana Jim May 1, 2013 9:21pm

Good food for thought here. Thank you.
I've found that stillness is an incremental thing as well, and subject to one's intention. If there is a traffic accident, for example, one can learn to dissociate from the frenzy by small steps to inner stillness. Just by asking to be in a little more calming frame of mind, breathing and resonating with that, then asking again for a little more, re-resonating, etc., until incrementally, the mental clatter has dissipated or becomes much more manageable.

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