a couple of months ago

Discovering stillness, a practical inquiry

Stillness. That’s one of those words that gets thrown around a lot. But what does it really point to?

I’ve come to appreciate the immense value of what authentic teachers can offer with their pointings. When someone (an authentic teacher) has a direct experience of something I value and want to directly experience, I am wise to listen as clearly as I can to the teacher.

But I’m not talking about “listening” with the conditioned mind. Because that kind of “listening” is not listening at all. That is only self-referencing.

Self-referencing is a closed loop. It is stale. No newness can enter it except by chance/divine intervention or choice/divine intervention.

That intervention that introduces newness requires looking beyond the mirror of conditioned mind. It requires looking beyond the beliefs, reactions, thoughts, memories, and all the mechanical regurgitation of conditioned mind.

To listen truly is to look beyond that self-referencing mirror of mind.

That mirror mind is very much like a hall of mirrors. It can distort the reflection, make it all out of proportion, and provoke either horror or humor. But all it is reflecting is my existing self-image.

What is beyond the mirror mind? I must look honestly to discover.

Authentic teachers point to what is beyond mirror mind. And the most skillful teachers point skillfully, using language wisely, providing clear instruction and description.

But ultimately, it is not the teacher who does the looking for me. Only I can look. No matter how skillful the teacher, if I refuse to look honestly and openly and willingly, I will not see beyond mirror mind. I cannot rightly blame anyone else for that.

Now, back to this pointer of stillness. Teachers speak of it. They point. But am I looking?

If I gloss over the word, settle for my idea of stillness, I am not looking beyond mirror mind. I am looking only to mirror mind in that case. Mirror mind says, “I know what stillness is. I had an experience of it once. I’ve read about it. I have thought about it a lot. I’ve tried really hard to understand it.”

Mirror mind is symbol mind. Symbols in place of reality as it is.

Mirror mind is past mind.

Mirror mind is thought mind.

Mirror mind is fear mind.

If I think I know what stillness is, I am consulting mirror mind.

If I think I might know about stillness in the future, I am consulting mirror mind. If I think that there are conditions, things I must achieve or do first before I can earn that future stillness, I am consulting mirror mind.

Mirror mind is conditional mind.

Right now. The authentic teachers invite me to look right now. They promise me it is here now. They promise it is unconditional.

So let me look in this way! Let me look now in this way. Let me truly listen to the teachers.

Right now I look as they instruct. Look here. Look now. Look unconditionally. Look without turning to past, thought, memory.

And look without desire.

Now that I am looking as they say, I look in the way they point when they speak of stillness.

They are promising that stillness is here now. Stillness is unconditional. I don’t need to do anything to earn it. I cannot attain it in the future. It does not have an opposite.

So I trust the teachers and look in the way they say. And it is like a riddle. Can I be aware now of what is unconditionally present? Can I recognize what is untouched by memory, thought, reaction, event, condition, or anything else?

This is what the teachers are inviting me to do. So I take them up on the offer here and now. I look in this way now.

Stillness. They tell me that the word is a pointer. It is not the actuality of what is being pointed to.

But this word is not random. Stillness hints at something. There is a reason the teachers use this word and not “pepperoni pizza”. The word “stillness” points to something. There is a thread that connects my worldly, conditioned sense of stillness with the reality they are pointing to.

Let me follow that thread. Let me look in the way they suggest – here, now, unconditionally, without thought, without past – and let me follow the thread, the clue, they offer me with this word.

Stillness. Let me look to my experience of stillness. Does stillness exist for me? Is it a reality?

The closest approximation I can find in my experience to stillness is this: non-efforting.

In other words, when I cease to make effort, I am still.

I can become physically still by not making unnecessary effort. I simply observe the compulsions to move, to adjust, to fix, to correct, to get comfortable.

And I can see what this shows me, which is that none of my compulsive efforts have ever satisfied. None have worked adequately. All of them continue.

So now I am curious about the actual nature of the compulsions. Do I need to make that movement now? Could I rest from that for just another moment? And then see what happens?

I wait. I rest from activity. I rest observing stillness. I observe stillness by observing anything that appears not to be stillness. Every compulsion appears to be other than stillness. So I rest and observe each compulsion.

Each compulsion arises and falls. I am still.

Each compulsion reveals subtler and subtler aspects of itself. Physical tics yield to urges to scratch yield to fearful thoughts. Subtler and subtler. And I am watching, still.

The teachers pointed. I looked as they instructed.

Joey Lott

Joey Lott is the author of numerous books, including The Best Thing That Never Happened and The Little Book of Big Healing. He lives in southern Vermont with his wife and children.

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