PhilosophyCenterPhilosophyCenter | Odysseys
PhilosophyCenter | Odysseys

Stillness

Still, it can be more effective to accomplish what you need to accomplish with the minimum effort. Watch Anthony Hopkins. He doesn’t appear to be doing anything. He is so still that you can’t see him working, but you are drawn into his character through his very stillness.
| Morgan Freeman

Stillness

In the 19th century, the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard wrote, “What our age lacks is not reflection but passion.” Today, we might say that what our age lacks is stillness. With knowledge now doubling every year, the sheer pace of modern life has accelerated to the point that we may rarely slow down and take the moment required to retrieve stillness and return to the misplaced present. Air travel, ever faster microchips and computing devices, overnight delivery and near instant access to information literally at our fingertips, the knee-jerk culture of social media, and the supplanting of real community with unknown others who can become our “friends” with a click—all have created an existential cacophony, and the inherent stillness of things is lost in the shuffle.

Why is this furious acceleration of human life so important, and so detrimental? Because there is an intimate connection between pace and awareness. The faster we go, the farther we stray from the present, which isn’t fast at all, because it never goes anywhere, The present simply is. Often, in philosophical counseling sessions, the first thing I do is invite the client to slow down. Speedy client narratives invariably signal a flight from the present, usually to escape some uncomfortable or difficult truth. Put another way, speediness can be a form of denial. For some clients, the willingness simply to slow down and come back to present awareness is half the work. Here is another essential equation: The more awareness slows down, the more it expands. To achieve “cosmic consciousness,” the yogi must enter descending states of stillness in which brainwave activity slows measurably from beta to alpha, then theta and even delta, and perhaps states of yet deeper stillness that elude measurement. The more we slow down, the less we miss, the more inclusive our awareness becomes. The blur of living always for the next moment and the next and the next is brought into sharp focus, and we may feel that we’re seeing things as they are for the first time.

This is not something that the mind can grasp or appreciate except in principle. One has to experience it for oneself. Awareness is a great mystery; it permeates and surrounds us, yet we may ignore it for a lifetime. To explore this mystery, as we have said, we must slow down, recall ourselves, as it were, from the speed and distractions of modern life, and enter our native state of stillness. In this state, we become aware of awareness itself as the medium or “horizon” within which all phenomena exist in time and space. If these phenomena are thought of as musical notes making up, say, a symphony, then awareness is the stillness between the notes, the orchestrated moments of silence that pervade the instrumental piece, without which music could not exist. In other words, the musical notes ride on a medium of stillness; it is not the other way around. Stillness is fundamental, not only to music, but to the entire cosmos world and every manifest thing, including ourselves. When we return to stillness, we return to our origins. In stillness, we come home to ourselves.

Socrates tells us that philosophy begins with wonder, and wonder is rooted in stillness. Note here that stillness is not the same as silence. We can be still without being silent and silent without being still. Rather, stillness is a unique state in which awareness, aware of itself, opens up in the living present until it recognizes itself as encompassing all that exists, as the horizon of being. The experience is characterized by a sense of expanding, and this sense of expanding is inherently joyful, as though life, having come full circle, is happy to be alive.

Practicing stillness grounds us in the living present, transforming us at the deepest levels of our being. Many benefits obtain as a result. Energetic imbalances in mind and body resolve, old emotional wounds are spontaneously healed without the need to consult the mind, the body releases its various holdings and relaxes into being-here, circumstances lose their ability to throw us off-center, and we may find work, sleep, digestion, and many other areas of life improved or enhanced. Even the fear of death can be mitigated by the experience of horizon awareness, within which we can sense that we are something far greater than the body. It is a consummate paradox that the happiness we may chase all our life in this or that set of worldly conditions is hiding in the stillness that abides at the center of each of us, awaiting our recognition and homecoming.