Cultivating Tranquility – Step 1

Cultivating Tranquility – Step 1

Being truly  calm in order to build moment to moment awareness is something that  we often try to cultivate,  but do we really understand it?   It is complex and requires some states of mind which do not come easy to most of us.   Let us examine these in order to free ourselves from barriers that are common in the quest to be truly “present’ with life unfolding and the quiet stillness that comes with this skill.

Recently,  I received the following gentle reminder from Jack Kornfield:

“There is inherent goodness in you.  The point of meditation isn’t to make yourself better but to quiet yourself so that the natural integrity, consideration, care and love of the heart is available.  Meditation allows the beauty of your spirit to open and awaken.” 

Essentially,  Jack is reminding us that we need to slow down, still our bodies and minds in order to experience our life unfolding moment to moment.  We sometimes think that meditation entails exerting some kind of effort to beat the mind into submission, into stillness.    The resolve to make the mind do our bidding is just one more example of delusion – that the mind is doing something wrong in being distracted and forcing restraint on it is the way to corral it into stillness.   But we have to be careful not to damage the inherent resilience and power of the mind.  It is perfectly capable of stillness as well as of energetic activity.  Both these qualities need care and patience to develop and  to be available for us when we need these qualities to emerge.  Willpower can’t over ride the tendency of the mind to respond to the often incessant  stimulation we subject it to.  If we push the mind incessantly all day, it may need some time to calm.

We value stillness.  But stillness can ‘t be achieved by force!  Conditions for peaceful abiding need to be made available, and the mind will follow along toward the much valued peacefulness.  Mind is not the enemy.  It is only a creature shaped by the conditions of our life, and is ever maliable!

So,  when my life is full of running about, and getting things accomplished and rushing out for new exciting experiences,  I reap a lot of turbulence.  Why would this not be so?  I create a lot of agitation in being active all day and sometimes in the evening as well  without mindful breaks.    Over time, the frenzy and agitation makes itself felt as  trapped energy.  I am lucky if I realize the need to discharge some of that energy.  Otherwise, I  may soon notice that getting a good night’s sleep is not always possible,

my aches and pains intensify, my head is pounding.  My impatience rises up again, and soon I  take things that don’t go well as personal failure!   The more I take on, the more I feel like a prisoner to some unseen overlord never satisfied, relentlessly pushing me on.

Sometimes  we have to go through cycles of these experiences and notice with mindfulness  how they are linked in a chain of habits and  conditions that make it difficult to become quiet and peaceful.  If we allow the mind to relax in meditation, the love and integrity in our hearts reveal themselves.    That peaceful love is always there, but not  always accessible.   Slowing down the agitated pace of life is a precursor to quiet,  to peace of mind and body.  Body too, needs rest and release from the demands of life.

Incessant activity is the sign of being out of touch with heart and mind,  bent on proving something ephemeral, an illusion of self importance.    As Thomas Merton very famously said:

“The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence”. 

This is what buddhist psychology means when speaking about creating a ”Self.. Co-operating with the delusion of constantly becoming”.  Trying to create a persona for oneself is costly to our happiness and contentment .    Protecting heart and mind from incessant pressure to “become” is  a new skill I am developing, slowly – day by day.

There is inherent goodness in me, according to Jack Kornfield.   There seems to be no test to pass,  no hurdles to overcome,  no external seal of  approval.  To experience this, we just need to connect with an open hearted acceptance of things just as they are:  of ourselves, our conditions, our sorrows and triumphs – an unconditioned openness to what is already here.  As Galway Kinnell pointed out in his poem:  St. Francis and the Sow:

…..everything flowers from within of self blessing,

Thought sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness,

To put a hand on its brow  – of the flower

And retell it in words and in touch 

It is lovely,

Until it flowers again from within, of self blessing…….

Reflection when we feel stirred up by powerful forces within is very helpful.  I often recommend the meditative 4 step reflection known by the acronym:  RAIN.

Have a look at this video by Pascal Auclair  who brings it alive for us accessible on VIMEO.

Enjoy your practice –  Enjoy your life….  I look forward to your comments here!!