But how are we to be still?
Over the years, I’ve heard many, many folks say they could not be yoga students because they could not be still. Others, like myself, found corpse and meditation poses, (lying or sitting quietly) to be the most challenging poses of all for many years. I could do the splits or stand on my head, but lying quietly on my back was a true struggle.
I’ve come to understand the challenge of stillness as the challenge of detachment, and this is my yogic arch nemesis.
For many years, I believed, as perhaps some of you do, that stillness was primarily about focus and discipline. And it is… sort of.
Committing to a position, a thought, a mantra and exerting the force it takes to keep you there is a good starting point to stillness.
Take, for example, a strict diet. You make the plan, you work the plan. You do not stray, you stay the course despite all of the delicious, unhealthy temptations that assault your senses at every turn.
You didn’t have any cake at your kid’s friend’s 2nd birthday party. You drank one of those “delicious” light beers and nothing else when you went out with friends because YOU are “being good”. You skipped the family potluck altogether because you couldn’t deal with another situation where you’d be “tempted” by all of your favorite foods combined with the people you loved urging you to eat the dishes they made especially for you.
You are hungry and cranky. You are resentful of those who are eating things you want to be eating. And you are especially resentful of those who enjoy health or a slim physique without maintaining a strict diet.
But you managed to maintain your commitment through effort- that is being steadfast, but it is not being still. You have learned a certain level of self mastery, but you haven’t exactly been “still” nor have you encountered the divine.
You’re starting to feel “the burn” of those muscles that have to work to move you from the place you’ve been to the place you want to be.
But in order to ever have peace in this place, you have to detach from the old one. I was always under the impression that this “took time”. It doesn’t. It takes intelligent, intentional release. It can happen in a moment. But it can also be reattached in a moment. The stronger your attachment was before you let it go, the harder it may be to put it down a second time. Until and unless the peace you feel in detachment is more compelling than the attachment, you won’t leave it alone.
When you align AND detach, there is no burn. You’re not sitting there counting the seconds until you can pick up what you let go.
For some people, this is genuinely dissatisfying. They LIKE to burn. I cannot tell you the number of times I have heard students say that they like to burn and feel sore because then they “know they are doing something”.
I’m always curious about this. Wanting to punch someone in the face and not doing it is good, but wouldn’t you rather not want to punch someone in the face?
When you are in alignment, in a state of grace, there is ease. All burning subsides. Right and wrong go away.
All artists, writers, performers and athletes know the flow state.
You recognize the times when you are the conduit for an energy that supersedes your own. You don’t miss a single shot. Running is effortless. The paint just shows up on the canvas, the words on the page. The notes just ring out of you or your instrument.
An energy bigger and greater than you is doing a thing with you, through you, and you can do no wrong. You’re possessed in a sense.
But eventually, the flow is broken and you’re back in your little self. This leads some folks to all manner of superstition as they try to recreate the circumstances in which they last were in that flow. What song was on? What socks was I wearing? What had I had to eat that day?
Or, perhaps worse still, we assign responsibility for the experience to someone else. Who was my teacher, my coach, my pastor, my lover when I felt that AMAZING experience?
Without a doubt, some people are wonderful catalysts for flow, but if you NEED them to get there, you are borrowing their access. It’s not unlike like taking advantage of free high speed wifi rather than cultivating your own connectivity independent of place.
But stillness is a third thing. It’s not striving by yourself. It’s not flowing where you and God are doing a thing together. Stillness is when you and God are in each other’s presence distraction free.
And it is NOT dependent on the environment around you.
I have tried myself to create a sanctuary where stillness is “supposed” to be easier. It’s quiet. It’s the perfect temperature. It’s clean. It smells nice. The pillows are arranged just so, etc., etc. But if I am truly still, firetrucks with their sirens blaring do not disturb my peace, but if I am not, the sound of a clock ticking in the next room can.
The Song of Solomon talks about God like a lover. Much of the Bible talks about God like a parent. Jesus is sometimes referred to as a friend.
I have had the good fortune to have these experiences of full connection distraction free in every single one of those roles many, many times.
I particularly remember the very first time I locked eyes with my husband. We were across the room from each other in a very noisy place, but the room went quiet. Everything in the periphery went blurry. Time seemed to stretch out for a moment. I’ve been with a friend so deep in who was sharing her heart with me, and I with her and felt chills run up and down my spine. At that moment, everyone and everything outside those words ceased to matter at all for a little while. And my babies. And my parents. Oh my how I’ve been blessed to share some stillness with these dear ones! It is when the meaning of namasté has come to fruition. God in me and God in them are alone together.
Stillness in meditation is a lot like these experiences except it is God in you period- engaging no one and nothing else. And you’re comfortable- not just physically. You’re not worried God is not going to like you or might leave if you accidentally move your foot or cough. You and God alone and not talking- which a the distinction between prayer and meditation. You and God alone and just being.
This hearts and eyes locking and the rest of the world disappearing thing doesn’t happen all the time. BUT when you’re attempting to find it with loved ones, it can’t really go wrong IF you detach from the outcome. Say you look lovingly at your kid and really SEE them for a second, but they don’t see you? That’s STILL a beautiful thing- it’s adoration. Say you look lovingly at GOD but can’t tell if God is looking specifically back at you right at that moment and you get a text message, and it irritates you rather than just fading into the background, but you keep looking. STILL a beautiful thing- it’s devotion.
If you can’t be still, be STILL- still steadfast, still adoring, still devoted. But if you CAN, be still.