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April 14, 2016

Making Friends with Stillness: Through Formal & Informal Meditation.

I live a few minutes walk from the Pacific Ocean. We love to take our pup Bindu down to the beach around sunset.

Every evening people gather on the bluff overlooking Beacon’s Beach to witness the sunset. As the sky changes colors and the sun nudges the horizon everyone gets very quiet.

It’s a threshold moment.
The crossing point from day to night—and it focuses our attention. People stop moving and talking in order to be present as the sun melts into the sea.

Sometimes the beauty is so intense that someone will feel compelled to speak. They’ll say, “Wow,” or, “That is just so beautiful,” or sometimes, “It’s like a movie.”

To simply be present without commentary—is very intense.
The wordless intensity of threshold moments is more than the mind can bear. So we buffer the intensity by overlaying it with words. Talking about the experience makes it more bearable as it distances the speaker from the experience itself.

Saying that the sunset is “like a movie” overlays the glory of the moment with memories, associations, and concepts.

The mind feeds on, and is sustained by, memories, associations, and concepts.
These are all beautiful in their own right. Who doesn’t enjoy the occasional stroll down memory lane?

Memory can function as a deep repository of wisdom and experience.
Meditative remembering connects us with our deepest intentions, our core longings, and the purpose that we came into this life to fulfill.

And for functional tasks—from driving to reading—memory is the tool of choice.

But, memory can also be a trap.
Because when perceptions of the present moment are obscured by memories of trauma, we’re missing out on what’s actually occurring now.

When we want to renew our lives and cross the threshold into a new way of being, memory gets in the way.

The mental models of the past won’t take us across the threshold.
The beliefs, strategies, and patterns of the past have brought you this far. What carries us across the threshold is not thought or emotion. It is stillness and silence.

To cross the threshold, we need to become friends with stillness and silence.
When I began learning about public speaking and group facilitation, I was taught to ask an open question and then simply allow for seven seconds of silence.

“It may feel like an eternity,” my coach told me, “just keep breathing. Someone will break the silence and answer your question. They won’t be able to withstand the silence.”

The same thing happens when you’re at the threshold.
If you haven’t made friends with silence and stillness, the mind will become antsy. Instead of resting in presence, it will begin to scurry around looking for an idea, a memory, a belief to break the silence—and bring certainty to the sacred uncertainty of the threshold.

This presents a dilemma—if you’re longing for a deeper, more awakened, more creative life.
If you’ve heard the call to live more fully, to create more freely, and live with an undefended heart—the tendency to pull back from the threshold is a real dilemma.

The mind’s need for familiarity, certainty, and control prevent you from entering the vehicle of stillness—the only form of transportation that can carry you across.

The solution is to develop a taste for stillness and the capacity to sustain self-awareness in the absence of thought.
This takes practice. Spiritual practice, to be precise. By which I mean any intentional practice that cultivates your capacity to sustain self-awareness without the support of thought, memory, ideas, emotions, and concepts.

There are two forms of spiritual practice.
One is formal the other informal. Both are needed to develop the capacity to cross the threshold.

Formal practice is the daily discipline of sitting, meditating, praying, chanting…whatever form of spiritual practice you enjoy.

Notice the word: daily.
As in, every day. That’s part of what makes something a practice. Not a hobby.

Ideally you practice at the same time, in the same place and posture. In other words, you’ll establish a consistent pattern that will train your mind and body—to enjoy, to savor, and to look forward to the experience of stillness.

It doesn’t take long.
You don’t really have to sit for long periods of time in the formal practice. The most important factor is daily consistency.

My guru suggested a few minutes a day to start. That’s doable.

Through daily practice, the time you spend in each sitting will organically extend itself. Particularly if your formal practice is support by your informal practice.

What is informal practice?
It’s the way you live. If your days are spent running, ranting, raving and—how to put this delicately—multi-tasking, then your informal practice will undermine the benefits of your formal practice.

The idea is to live—eat, work, love, play—in such a way that by the time you’re ready to sit down for formal practice, you’re really ready. How to do this?

Be mindful as you move through your day.
Notice all the thresholds that present themselves. All the opportunities to let go of your fixed agenda, personal history, and well-honed expectations. All the opportunities to open up and meet life—without relying on the limiting patterns of the past.

Notice all the thresholds of daily life, that give you the opportunity to practice letting go and entering into the undefended experience of living.

As you cultivate this informal practice, you discover something magical.

Every moment is a threshold moment.
Every moment is an invitation to experience the exquisite beauty, stunning fragility, and boundary-less power of what is arising as your life.

It only takes a breath to open to the sunset—and cross the threshold into the new life that is dawning.

 

 

 

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Author: Eric Klein

Editor: Travis May

Image: Author’s Own

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