Dear Still Water Friends,
My first real connection with mindfulness practice came years ago when I spent a week at a retreat center in the south of Thailand, a place called Suan Mohk. The monks there taught me sitting meditation: how to follow my breath and quiet my thinking mind. It was difficult for me. My mind was used to wandering at will. But I found it calming to be free of my obsessive thoughts.
Then the monks suggested I let go of my thoughts all through the day, when I was walking, or eating, or lying down. I objected. I explained that I had too much going on. I was concerned about my family, my work, my career, my house, my future and so on. I needed to make decisions and formulate plans.
The monks and I discussed this for a while, listening to each other’s reasoning, and then came up with a plan. At 7:30 each morning I could take out my notebook, go through each of my issues of concern, and write down if I had any new ideas or understandings about each of them. Then I would put the notebook away. For the rest of the day I would endeavor to be more present. When the thoughts about these topics came up, I would recognize them and let them go, coming back to my breath and the sensations of the present moment. Then at 7:30 in the evening I could pull out my notebook again and go through my issues.
Again I found the practice both difficult and calming. I became aware of how often my thoughts drifted to my concerns and how I chewed on them, like a cow with her cud. Then I remembered I had set aside time to work with them in a more productive way. I could come back to my steps, my breath, and my sensations. I could take an enjoyable vacation from my concerns.
This all made some logical sense to me. What surprised me, however, was that in the middle of the day, while doing something ordinary, like admiring a butterfly, a strong feeling arose in me. I was suddenly aware that my perspective about a particular concern had dramatically shifted. Of course I should take the new job assignment; here’s exactly what I needed to say to my boss. Unexpectedly I had clarity. With regard to this one concern, I knew and had confidence in my next step.
Wow. I was impressed.
In later years, as I learned more about meditation, I understood the sudden shifts at Suan Mohk: the quieting of my thinking during the day allowed me to better hear the soft, shy, voice of my heart. It was my heart, the source of my deepest aspirations for health and wholeness, that gave me a clarity far greater than my logical thinking. These first experiences of the power of mindfulness have guided my practice ever since.
Thich Nhat Hanh, in his recently published book, Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise, offers many examples of the potency of inner silence. The quieting of our discursive minds is the essence of mindfulness and an essential component of a fulfilled and intentional life.
The practice of mindfulness is very simple. You stop, you breathe, and you still your mind.You come home to yourself so that you can enjoy the here and now in every moment.
All the wonders of life are already here. They’re calling you. If you can listen to them, you will be able to stop running. What you need, what we all need, is silence. Stop the noise in your mind in order for the wondrous sounds of life to be heard. Then you can begin to live your life authentically and deeply.
This Thursday evening, we will explore the power of silence with a guided meditation during our sitting, with our walking meditation, and in our Dharma sharing. What has mindfulness taught us about inner silence? What are our successes and challenges?
In addition, you are invited to join us this Thursday for a brief newcomer’s orientation to mindfulness practice and the Still Water community. The orientation will begin at 6:30 pm and participants are encouraged to stay for the evening program. If you would like to attend the orientation, it is helpful if you let us know by emailing us at info@StillWaterMPC.org.
Below is an except from Silence in which Thich Nhat Hanh explains that inner silence does not require outer silence, and that solitude does not necessarily mean being alone.
The Essence of Stillness
by Thich Nhat Hanh from Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise
When we release our ideas, thoughts, and concepts, we make space for our true mind. Our true mind is silent of all words and all notions, and is so much vaster than limited mental constructs. Only when the ocean is calm and quiet can we see the moon reflected in it.
Silence is ultimately something that comes from the heart, not from any set of conditions outside us. Living from a place of silence doesn’t mean never talking, never engaging or doing things; it simply means that we are not disturbed inside; there isn’t constant internal chatter. If we’re truly silent, then no matter what situation we find ourselves in, we can enjoy the sweet spaciousness of silence.
There are moments when we think we’re being silent because all around us there’s no sound, but unless we calm our mind, talking is still going on all the time inside our head. That’s not true silence. The practice is learning how to find silence in the midst of all the activities we do.
Try to change your way of thinking and your way of looking. Sitting down to eat your lunch may be an opportune time for you to offer yourself the sweetness of silence. Even though others may be speaking, you have the ability to disengage from habitual thinking and be very silent inside. You can be in a crowded space, yet still enjoy silence and even solitude.
Just as inner silence does not require outer silence, solitude does not necessarily have to mean there is no one physically around you. You realize the deep meaning of being alone when you are established firmly in the here and now, and you are aware of what is happening in the present moment. You use your mindfulness to become aware of every feeling, every perception you have. You’re aware of what’s happening around you, but you also stay fully present within yourself; you don’t lose yourself to the surrounding conditions. That is real solitude.