Dear Still Water Friends,
I was recently given a print of a calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh. Reading its message, "be still and heal," I smiled and inwardly bowed in appreciation. In just four words, it advocates an approach to life that I find both challenging and deeply satisfying.
Another Thich Nhat Hanh calligraphy that I’ve seen many times, "be still and know," highlights our human capacity for deep looking, insight, and understanding. In contrast, "be still and heal" guides our attention to the mysteries of life — which work on us, change us, and transforms us.
"Be still" advises a calming and quieting of the mind and the body. It is an encouragement to relax, to be at home, in the present moment. For most of us, deep and authentic inner stillness is not something we approach easily. Our restlessness, fantasies, self-criticism, fears, projects, and ambitions pull us away. However, with practice and with a supportive community, we can learn to be more still.
When we are still, our bodies can heal. Rest is helpful for the recovery from an illness or injury. When we are truly calm our calmness touches every cell in our body. When we reduce the agitation in our bodies and minds, our innate healing processes work more effectively, returning us more quickly to health and preventing other illnesses from occurring.
When we are still, our minds can also heal. When there are disturbances in the mind, such as unpleasant emotions or frustrating habits, we have a tendency to want to fix them or have them removed. We may go in search of methods, procedures, and specialists. Sometimes this is helpful, just as medical procedures are sometimes helpful. However, just as our bodies know how to heal, our minds know how to heal, if we give them the proper environment.
Buddhist psychology teaches us that we have both a conscious mind and an unconscious mind (which Thich Nhat Hanh calls the Alaya or Storehouse Consciousness). In relation to the unconscious mind, the conscious mind is like a gardener. The gardener can’t control the garden — he can’t order the apple trees to bear fruit in April — but the gardener can lovingly tend the garden, and the blossoming and fruiting will occur at the appropriate time.
For me, "be still and heal" is a reminder that while my efforts to heal and transform are sometimes helpful, often the effort itself gets in the way. I can wear myself out analyzing the origins of various behaviors or searching for the transformative insight. Instead, when I cultivate stillness, simply being open to and accepting of each moment, even marveling at each new experience, healing and transformation may occur on its own.
This Thursday, after our meditation period, we will focus our discussion on stillness and healing. Does the teaching "be still and heal" touch something in you? Is stilling and healing something you have done or would like to be able to do? You are invited to join us.
An excerpt on Resting and Healing from Thich Nhat Hanh is below.
A community note — because of expressed interest, the Still Water community is working to create two new ongoing groups:
a weekly sitting and discussion group in the Gaithersburg/Rockville area, and,
a Still Water Family Council to create opportunities for practice for parents and families.
If you would like to participate in either of these organizing efforts, please send contact information to info@StillWaterMPC.org and tell us about your interest.
Settling into Silence: Still Water Practice Retreat. Friday, May 4- Sunday, May 6, at Charter Hall in Perryville, MD.
Touching Life Deeply: A Day of Practice. Sunday, May 26, at Blueberry Gardens in Ashton, Maryland.
Lotuses, Food, and Mindful Friends. Sunday, July 15, 2012, at the the National Park Service’s Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens.
Resting and Healing,
from a Dharma Talk by Thich Nhat Hanh on July 30, 1997
Our body has the capacity of healing itself. You know that. When you get a cut in your finger, do you have to do anything? No. You only have to keep it clean and in a few days it will be healed. Your body has a number of problems within because you have not allowed it to rest. If you know the art of total relaxation, the art of allowing your body to rest, most of these troubles will go away after a few weeks.
When an animal is wounded in the woods, it knows how to do this. It seeks a peaceful corner in the forest and it lays down for several days. Several generations of ancestors have transmitted to them the wisdom that this is the only way to restore themselves. They don’t have doctors, they don’t have pharmacists, but they know how to rest. They don’t need to run after their prey, they don’t need to eat—in fact, they fast during these three, four, five days of resting. And one day the animal is healed and it stands up and it goes to look for a source of food.
We don’t know how to do like animals. In order to get well quickly we bring a lot of interventions into our body: we take a lot of drugs, we undergo a lot of treatments. But we don’t know how to allow our body to rest. So learning how to allow your body to rest is a very important practice. Love your body. You learn total relaxation and you can do it several times a day. Five minutes is enough, ten minutes. Even three minutes are already very good if you know how to allow your body to rest completely.
And for your spirit, it is the same. Our consciousness is able to heal itself. It has the power of self healing but you don’t allow it to rest. You continue to feed your consciousness with your anger, your worries, your thinking, and so on. You don’t believe in your consciousness. You are seeking for a means to heal it but you don’t know how to allow yourself to rest. You keep thinking the whole day and you keep worrying the whole day. You never allow yourself to rest. If you know how to practice total relaxation, you’ll know how to smile and how to send your smile to different parts of your body. During that time, you have stopped thinking and worrying because you are focused on your body, your breathing, your walking. When you practice mindful breathing, when you practice “In, out, deep, slow,” not only can you nourish yourself—body and spirit—but you can also stop your thinking. Stopping the thinking, stopping the worries, is very important.
. . . We have to trust our spirit in the way we trust our body. Our spirit has the power of self healing if only we know how to allow it to rest and don’t continue to feed it with more worries, with more projects, with more fear. The practice of mindful breathing, mindful walking, enjoying the contemplation of the sky, of the vegetation, of being with friends, enjoying things in the present moment, helps you to stop . . . the heart and the spirit filling with worries and fear. You will heal in the inside.