You’re walking through a forest.
In the corner of your eye, something moves.
What was that?
A deer? A crow? A squirrel?
To answer this question, the best thing we can often do is to stand still.
When we stand sill, the background of the visual field also becomes still.
And against this background of stillness, the movement of our mystery animal stands out.
Ah! It’s a squirrel after all.
Now, let’s take this same thoughts to meditation practice.
Why do we sit still to meditate?
We sit still because stillness helps us to see.
Bringing the body to rest, we create the perfect background to witness the the mind’s movements
A white canvass against which our thinking stands out.
Consider how hard it is to notice when your mind wanders during the busy day.
It can take many, many minutes to wake up to being lost in that story about our troubles, our career, that unbearable person at work.
The inertia of daily activity takes us from one thought to the next, to the next.
It leaves no space for witnessing, reflection and insight.
Keeping the body still, we can change this.
The Zen teacher Sokuzan describes meditation as “sitting very still and watching what moves“
This movement in our experience might be our sense of the breath, of people in the background, or the sounds of the wind.
It might also be our own thoughts and feelings
Sitting still, we can start to see these movements, rather than simply react and be moved automatically by them, unaware of what we’re doing.
Seeing interrupts the habitual chain of unconscious movement.
It stops that thought from evolving into another, and another, and another (and resultant action)
And once thought’s movement slows down, the background of the mind settles, and we start to see deeper what’s really going on.
Ah! This is what I’m thinking right now…
The next step is to see thoughts’ effects upon us – to make them obvious to ourselves.
Feel into what’s happening.
What is it like to rehearse this conversation?
What is it like to obsess about impressing everyone?
What is it like to blame that difficult person for my troubles or think only of myself?
Witnessing these feelings with complete honesty is the way that real change occurs.
“This demand I’m placing upon myself… it causes only exhaustion, anxiety, tension and strain”
“I see that this doesn’t work“
Notice that this witnessing requires space and stillness.
We cannot witness the effects of our own thoughts by simply “thinking them through”.
Thinking can be useful to the meditator, if it is done with a mindful awareness.
But it must be done in a way that allows our own personal habits to show up, rather than simply the abstract truths that the thinking mind specialises in.
We’re not interested in “happiness” or “joy” or “pain” in the abstract (as well as their less pleasing opposites) – Were interested in how these things manifest concretely for you in your patterns of thought and behaviour.
So today remind yourself.
If you spend all your day moving,
you will miss what’s truly happening.
Being still allows you to be touched by your own personal insight, to let go of what doesn’t serve you, and to welcome in what does.
This is the Chan Buddhist practice of “Silent Illumination”.
Sitting very still, we create a space of silence.
Against the silence, the nature of the mind is illuminated.
And in that illumination, liberation can occur.
It doesn’t require trying to remove thoughts, feelings or behaviors from our experience.
It requires us only to see what they do to us.
And when we are emotionally moved by our seeing, freedom happens by itself.