Do You Know What Stillness Means? ~ Morgan Webert

Via elephant journal
on May 1, 2013
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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 WebertMorgan 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:


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Asst: Terri Tremblett/Ed: Bryonie Wise


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4 Responses to “Do You Know What Stillness Means? ~ Morgan Webert”

  1. Padma Kadag says:

    “Knowing how to meditate but not how to be liberated—isn’t that just like the gods of
    concentration?” Those who place their trust in meditation as merely concentration in mental stillness,
    which lacks the key point of the way of liberating, will deviate into the concentration of the upper
    realms. Those who consider the recognition of abiding and movement as sufficient are no different from
    an ordinary person with deluded thoughts. Those who make generalizations, such as “this is emptiness”
    or “this is dharmakaya,” will be unable when encountering difficult circumstances to remain stable as
    their inner faults are exposed. So, “Without this, meditation is but the path of confusion.”
    This is part of a commentary By Patrul Rinpoche (1808-1887) on Garab Dorje's "Three Statements Which Strike the Crucial Point". Thought this might interest you regarding your "Buddhist philosophy"

  2. Montana Jim says:

    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.

  3. Barbara says:

    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.

  4. Stacey says:

    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.