Woman looking at sunset - Stillness and a free mind

Stillness

When we become free from our habitually overactive mind, a profound natural stillness spontaneously reveals itself. But to permanently free ourselves from this day-to-day mind, we must have a full and accurate understanding of how the ordinary mind works, so we no longer fall prey to its habits, reaction patterns, past history, and conditioned mental activity.

Freed from the dominance of ceaseless mental activity, our usual sense of self dissolves, clarity arises, and a natural inner stillness appears, a stillness that is the ground of our being and is uninterrupted by the flow of life’s circumstances and challenges. And that natural stillness, as we shall see, is quite different from what we customarily call the calm or quiet mind.

You might feel this to be a distant and unimaginable possibility – an unchanging stillness in the midst of everyday challenges? Yet, everyone has experienced a glimpse of this resilient natural stillness – a moment lost in nature, tender intimacy, art, beauty, dance, music, and at other times. Your chattering mind stops and in its place is an experience of stillness, serenity, presence and flow.

Recall such a moment for yourself. We usually take this as a mere pleasant moment, failing to recognize its true significance. But if we stop in that moment and experience fully, we will notice the momentary absence of the personal self, which allows the stillness and flow of our true nature to reveal itself. You have each had this experience many times. I urge you not to lose its significance, not to lose its meaning, not to write it off as a mere pleasant reverie, but rather to recognize it is a profound preview of what is possible for an awakened human life.

The stillness I am speaking of is quite different than what we usually call the calm mind. The calm mind is always in relationship to the restlessness of our ordinary mind. A particular circumstance, activity, or method which relaxes and soothes the mind, shifts us momentarily towards the calmer end of the spectrum between calm and restless. However, the potential for restlessness always remains.

Remove the circumstance, activity, or method and the restlessness re-appears. We all know what happens as the effect of a massage, a relaxation technique, or a calm day in nature slowly wears off. The active mind re-asserts itself.

The question is how to reveal this natural mental stillness and sustain this delight of freedom, ease, and simplicity in the midst of daily life. The answer is most certainly not more of the same – another technique, addiction to relaxation activities, or withdrawal from life’s movements.

Only through the awakening of a truthful and complete understanding of our mind can we disable the underlying source and disturbance of mental restlessness and allow our natural nature to reveal itself. This requires a bit more effort than applying a temporary circumstance or method to the restless mind. But this understanding offers the only promise of a stable, harmonious, and serene body, mind, and spirit irrespective of life’s misfortunes.

For this we must understand the two fundamental wounds of the human experience that result in the restless and distress-prone mind. The first and foundational wound occurs, unknown to us, when our family names us, a seemingly natural and innocuous event. Before we knew our name, we were nameless. We were connected to the whole. There was no “I and Other,” no “I and It.” There is simply the moment-to-moment awareness, presence, and beingness. It is for the young child as the poet Wordsworth describes it:

The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore;—
Turn wheresoe’er I may,
By night or day.
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.

Our given name becomes the container for our soon to be developed individuality, a necessary but nevertheless source of future distress. This personal sense of “I” is expanded and filled with the knowledge of approval and disapproval, right and wrong, and shoulds and shouldnt’s, footprints of past history, identities, patterns of perception, and habits of reactivity.

Our expansive, unified, and connected world is slowly contracted to a an progressively acquired personal self, one which is invariably disconnected and separated from others, our planet, and most importantly our natural and authentic self. That is our first and primary wound – the mental creation of an individual personal self, accompanied by a firm belief that this personal self is our true self.

Once we have taken on the first human wound, the unquestioned belief in a personal “I,” this sense of self takes on numerous qualities that set-up the second great human wound. Our personal self, by its nature, is protective, defensive, and self-cherishing (“I”- centered.) This is the ground from which emerge a host of afflictive and disturbing emotions such as fear, anxiety, competitiveness, doubt, shame, anger, desire, and so on. These disturbing emotions arise and fall with life’s circumstances but are an invariable consequence of the belief in a personal self and the lost awareness of who and what we truly are. This is not to suggest that we do not live many sweet and pleasurable moments. We do. But the belief in an individual and personal self assures that we cannot avoid the recurrence of afflictive emotions.

Together, these two human wounds are the basis for the restless mind. Don’t be fooled by the moments of calm that arise in response to passing interactions, circumstances, or relaxation techniques. They are not stable and will quickly devolve into restlessness. A stable stillness is not built into the personal “I.” It is not a capacity of the ordinary mind. We may become quite skilled at inducing mental calm through one approach or another, one circumstance or another, and that is great, but it will never be a stable and pervasive stillness that is immune to outer circumstances.

A stable and pervasive stillness is an unchanging quality of the natural self that comes before and, although hidden by the dominance of our personal “I,” is always present and uncontaminated by past experience and history. To reveal this innermost self requires the decision to turn inward through meditative/contemplative practices, progressively diminish the emphasis on your personal “I,” and establish a lifestyle conducive to inner practice.

When the inner life becomes your focus and joy, you will come to know the stable stillness and peace that surpasses understanding. And with that, you will also come to know the other sacred qualities of human flourishing. That is the true aim of meditation. And that is not a meditation. It is life.

As the wise teacher says:

                      Not knowing that this state is within one self, 
                      How amazing that one searches for it elsewhere!
                      How amazing that so few see it.

So for a moment stop seeking to calm your mind and seek what is beyond. Close your eyes and drop into the expansive field of awareness that is open, spacious, free, and serene. It is right there, right now. You know it by heart. Mental chatter may naturally arise but merely ignore it. Don’t feed it with your attention. Let it come and go on its own. Drop out of your mind, out of your past history, out of your attention to mental movements and rest in your heart. Rest in the serenity, feel the stillness, experience the flow and spaciousness and be fully awake and present. That is who you are. That is a human being. And that stillness is pervasive and permanent.

To learn more about Dr. Dacher’s work or the practice of meditation, visit: http://ElliottDacher.org

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Elliott Dacher MD Written by Elliott Dacher MD

Explore Wellness in 2021