“The idea has been around as long as humans have been, of course; the poets of East Asia. the philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome, regularly made stillness the center of their lives. But has the need for being in one place ever been as vital as it is right now?… In an age of speed, I began to think, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.”
Pico Iyer, a British-born essayist and novelist who has travelled the world in pursuit of human interest stories, came to an appreciation of stillness while visiting a monastery. He knew at a feeling level that he was missing something in his fast-paced lifestyle; what he found by being still was that what he was missing was himself!
I once saw a sign that read “I’ve gone to find myself. If I come back before I return, have me wait.” This tongue-in-cheek saying expresses well the kind of confusion that can come about when we try to find/define ourselves by doing too much, too fast, for too long. We may accomplish a great deal when we live in this manner, but we pay a high price if our efforts result in “spiritual amnesia,” a disconnect from our True Self. It was, perhaps, an awareness of this estrangement that led Buddhist thinkers to advise “Don’t just do something, sit there.”
The stillness that is missing for most of us is not merely about motion, but emotion; it is not just about action but agitation, the inability to be at peace with our imperfect selves. We need not escape to a monastery to find inner-peace, though the quiet of such places can be helpful. What is required is the willingness to affirm the good news that, whether we feel it or not, we are more than our faults and failings. Also essential is the tenacious refusal to give power to the “voice in the head,” that persistently negative utterance that does not allow us to be content with who we are, as we are.
“In an age of speed, in an age of distraction, in an age of constant movement,” in an age such as our own, has being still ever been more urgent?
2 thoughts on “Sitting Still”
Well said. The meditation found in Asia is not what most think. Modern Japan is just as crazy and gast as anywhere else. If you are a monk or priest than you do it. The benefits of doing it are immense. Hoping to do more.
Thanks for your comment, Jeff. I think a lot of people image that Asians are more contemplative than westerners = no so, you say, and you should know.