What does it mean to go slow? Why do we learn to decelerate when the rest of the planet is stepping up in speed? Can stillness be found if you suffer from restless legs? What did the Taoist Sages mean when they sought to cultivate the Art of Stillness throughout their lives, and how is stillness compatible with motion?
Confused? Read on...
Spiderman and the Buddhist
I remember my grandmother fondly advising me as an undisciplined and fidgeting child: "Sit still and eat your diner yer' little blighter."
I tried to calm my jerky muscles and flighty mind and concentrate on the meat and two veg in front of me...but I was too excited. I'd just bought the latest Spider-Man comic book. My legs jerked, my fingers twitched. I was too excited to find out if Spidy had escaped from the clutches of Dr Octupus. Alas I'd been summoned for diner. And now, to top it all, I was being asked to do the very opposite of what a super-hero was known for: I was being asked to keep still.
When, as a young adult I ventured into a Buddhist meditation class, I found it difficult to restrain my restless nature even then. Despite the ambience and focus, despite the incense, cushions and candles and the odd gong reverberating, my muscles secretly fidgeted beneath my baggy clothes, unbeknown to those around me. I was tensing and relaxing in a sort of secret isometric workout, for this was as good as I could get at being still
Stillness in motion
In tai chi, we talk a lot about stillness in motion. Stilling the mind, quietening the body...but I'm still as restless as ever. My body has learnt to slow down, my mind to stay focussed, but beneath the surface my energy courses like a river.
When the ancient Taoist sages talked of cultivating stillness what did they mean? Was it that they had managed to discipline this restlessness within, or were they referring to something else altogether?
Well, it turns out it was not so much about being still as you might have thought. Stillness, is not about being motionless - but rather about not hurrying. It's about doing things spontaneously, with intention and deliberation yet - in an unhurried fashion. For what thing of value was ever achieved in a hurry?
The Sages of old were not be rushed. On their quest for immortality they found time to sup on moon beams, to drink of the morning dew and contemplate the Ice Palace on the Moon, rather than succumb to the pressures and stresses of an artificial regime.
How To find Stillness
In short, stillness is about acting in accordance with another rhythm, a rhythm that can only be discovered by removing, like the skin of an onion, the layers of delusion that stops us identifying with all that is important.
It is this gentle act of brushing away the dust of this world so as to see with greater clarity the infinite workings of nature and how we best might attune ourselves, that is - at the core of stillness.
Once the dust has gone, the block returns to its uncarved state and less and less is done until nothing is left to do, yet everything remains done.
And it is there that stillness is found.
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