on stillness

“Nothing in all creation is so like God as stillness.” Meister Eckhart

Meditation: “Meditation is like spinning a silk Sagrada Familia out of silence.”

Via Creativa

Lake DallWhat started out as a reaction to fast food culture – ‘slow food’ – has accelerated into other areas of modern life including slow travel, slow gardening and slow sex.

Carl Honoré’s 2004 book, In Praise of Slowness, explored how the Slow philosophy might be applied in every field of human endeavour and coined the phrase ‘slow movement’. “It is a cultural revolution against the notion that faster is always better” says Honoré.  “The Slow philosophy is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace. It’s about seeking to do everything at the right speed. Savoring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them. Doing everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible.”

My personal transition from mental worker advising startup businesses, where everything was required to happen at internet speed, to metal worker where I soon discovered that if I tried to rush a solder joint either the component I was soldering would burn up or I’d burn my fingers up, has taught me the benefits of going slow. I’m sure manual artisan work uses a different part of the brain thereby reducing the stress brought on by overthinking and we all know the pleasure of being totally absorbed in a pastime where we lose all sense of time and yet feel more refreshed afterwards.

What would happen if you slowed to a complete stop?

For some this represents their worst nightmare to be avoided at all costs. Observe yourself the next time you are just sitting how long it is before you get bored, irritated or even angry and seek any distraction to fill the stillness.

For others, however, stillness is the gateway to where the real action is – the portal to the numinous and the seed of all creativity. “The act of creation—whether from a blank page to a poem, an empty space to a building, a thought to a song or film—starts with a void” proffers music producer Rick Rubin from the stillness.

Pico Iyer interviewed Jikan – the artist formerly known as Leonard Cohen – in the Mt. Baldy Zen Center in 1994 where the poet and songwriter spent five years mostly sitting still. “Leonard Cohen had come to this Old World redoubt to make a life – an art – out of stillness.”

Not all of us can sit still for five minutes let alone five years. Italianophile novelist Tim Parks couldn’t either although in his case it was due to chronic pelvic pain disturbing his daytime peace and his nights sleep with visits to the loo. The author of ‘Teach Us to Sit Still’ describes the pain as “a general smouldering tension throughout the abdomen, a sharp jab in the perineum, an electric shock darting down the inside of the thighs, an ache in the small of the back, a shivery twinge in the penis itself”.

Submitting to western medicine he underwent several operations but the pain remained. As a last resort Parks goes to India to see an Indian doctor. “There is a tussle in your mind,” says the doctor. The pain is “blocked vata”. The cure? Sit still. Parkes embarked on a series of meditation retreats including an intensive vipassana with a strange old American guru called John Coleman. Vipassana is a sort of ‘extreme meditation’ focusing on the deep interconnection between mind and body which can be experienced directly by disciplined attention to the physical sensations including, in Tim Parks’ case, his persistent pelvic pain. Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, helped him to examine the source of his pain – a bit like giving himself an MRI scan with his attention – and by persevering with sitting still the pain dissolved. A Sceptic’s Search for Health and Healing – the subtitle of his book – distils the benefit he found from being still.

There is more than one kind of stillness. There is the outer stillness of the cessation of activity and being at home in your body and the world – watching the world go by. On Lanzarote I play a game called ‘count the geckos’. You sit in the sun by a volcanic stone wall or rocks and see how many lizards you can spot – the indigenous geckos have cute blue spots on their back like badly applied eye shadow. At first you can’t see any until a darting movement catches the eye and you detect a head sticking out from behind a rock. If you sit still long enough your eyes adjust and you can see two, three, maybe four at once. Any slight movement on your part and they’re all gone. My high score is seven.

Then there is the other kind of stillness – inner stillness. Most spiritual practices in every tradition include some form of meditation. The word itself comes from the Latin verb meditari although I’ve also heard it comes from the Latin ‘medio stare’ – to stand in the middle. In this case to stand (or sit) in the middle of your life … the still point. There are many tried and tested methods of meditation some of which include the use of a mantra – a repeated word or phrase. You will find a simple guide here.

Even God took a day off to be still after a busy week creating. A sabbath rest. St Paul exhorts us to “strive to enter that sabbath rest”. Hebrews 4 v.11 Jesus tells his listeners to his sermon on the mount “do not worry about your life.” Seek first the kingdom of stillness and everything else will follow.

There is a perfect resolution to life’s innate tension between anxious striving (or creative exploring if you prefer) and coming home to stillness in my favourite T S Eliot poem East Coker from Four Quartets:

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

So the next time you are tempted to clean the house … instead just sit still – it is stillness that is next to Godliness not cleanliness.

“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46 v.10


“Cast the net on the right side of the boat.”
Jesus, John 21v6


“Meditation is like fly fishing without a fly expecting to catch nothing … expecting nothing … standing in The Source.”

Via Creativa

20061130_antikytheraIn 1901, a group of divers excavating an ancient Roman shipwreck near the island of Antikythera, off the southern coast of Greece, found a mysterious object – a lump of calcified stone that contained within it several gearwheels welded together after years under the sea. The 2,000-year-old object, no bigger than a modern laptop, is now regarded as the world’s oldest computer, devised to predict solar eclipses and, according to recent findings, calculate the timing of the ancient Olympics.

One of the gears has 153 teeth – a prime number – and was used to predict eclipses. Several working models of the Antikythera Mechanism have been made and accurately predict lunar and solar eclipses – although we do not need it to predict the date of the next Olympics any more.

Jesus predicted an unusual event – a large catch of 153 fish on the right side of the boat – when the disciples caught none on the left side. A prime catch. When it seems as though your nets are empty try letting go of proven methods and allow yourself to be caught up in the abundance of  The Prime Mover.

There is a Radio4 snippet here – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02hzdgz


how long is now

“This is the fullness of time – when the Son of God is begotten in you.”
Meister Eckhart


“Saying the mantra is like a Mexican wave of prayer from Christian monks in desert monasteries to Tibetan lamas in mountain monasteries from age to age.”

Via Creativa

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

ClockAllWht1_00BFI-230pxOne of the metaphysical conundrums which we don’t need to feign interest in here. Although, modern quantum physics does suggest that it is only when ‘reality’ is perceived by an observer and the wave function collapses that anything ‘real’ can be said to exist at all.

If a clock chimes in the heart of a mountain and plays a different tune every day for 10,000 years but no-one is around to hear it does time pass? And this is not purely metaphysical conjecture to exercise the minds of budding monks. It is a real project in Texas created by The Long Now Foundation which includes amongst its founders the polymath composer, artist, and app developer Brian Eno – he of Roxy Music fame and author of ‘A Year With Swollen Appendices” which is wonderfully eclectic.

“It is a huge Clock, hundreds of feet tall, designed to tick for 10,000 years. Every once in a while the bells of this buried Clock play a melody. Each time the chimes ring, it’s a melody the Clock has never played before. The Clock’s chimes have been programmed to not repeat themselves for 10,000 years. Most times the Clock rings when a visitor has wound it, but occasionally it will ring itself when no one is around to hear it. It’s anyone’s guess how many beautiful songs will never be heard over the Clock’s 10 millennial lifespan.” The Long Now Foundation

The creative spark behind the project was Brian Eno’s observation when he lived in New York that everyone seems to be living in ‘the short now’ – busying themselves with today’s or this week’s projects. “What about the project of your year or your life?” he mused … and wondered what living in the long now might be like.

I like my home-spun philosophy on time – if there is such a thing as eternity … then we’re in it now. And if we’re in eternity now then time, as such, is an illusion. That’s the long and the short of it … choose how long is now.

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.”

William Blake


the sound of silence

“There is nothing so close to God as silence.”
Meister Eckhart


“If ‘Om’ is the sound of cosmic background radiation
‘ma-ra-na-tha’ is the sound of the heartpulse of god’s love
in the cosmos.”

Via Creativa

Studies in neuroscience reveal a surprising relationship between thought and action. You might reasonably presume that thought is prior to action. “Just one more sip” precedes picking up the wine glass.

Not so.

MRI  scans of brain activity reveal a sleight of hand – the arm moves to pick up the glass before the thought flickers in the brain as detected by the scanner. Intriguing. So who’s pulling the strings? What precedes thought? No thought? Maybe the same no-thought that animates our Being in deep sleep or meditation. There is no Do-er ultimately … only a Be-er. All our doings, thinkings, actions and creations spring out of pre-thought silence which, according to Meister Eckhart, is next to godliness. Shhh … can you hear the sound of silence?

“Sit quietly and do not move your mind or intellect. Then observe the observer. This is your true nature, from where everything else comes. It is your own nature, don’t forget.

If you make any effort or use any method of trying to achieve something at some distant future, this will bring you into time. And time is mind. So this will be the play of mind only. But your original nature is empty.

If you follow any thought that arises in the mind, you will find it arises from emptiness, from its source. And when you are aware, when you see “I am that source itself,” then there is no need to practice anything. No need to go anywhere. And you will see that you have always been that. This is called freedom, and you are not to achieve or attain it in some distant future. It is already there.”

H. W. L. Poonja (Papaji)