The Practice of Mindful Stillness

 Do you have a way to  become quiet within yourself each day? During the day do you let that stillness remind you to be mindful or observant of your thoughts and feelings as you live life? If you do, then you’re taking some good steps on the path to awakening. If not, you may be more troubled and bound up than necessary with the the incessant nature of your thoughts and feelings, unable to easily get enough distance from them to simply rest in the goodness of your own inner being. 

The mind can be a wonderful tool when it is made subject to the heart, our awakening being. For most people, however,  much of the time their minds run out of control. A stream of thoughts and feelings runs so far in the background that they are not even aware how much thinking process goes own outside of awareness. It is this undisciplined thinking–what the Buddhists call “monkey mind”–that causes personal, and ultimately family, community and world suffering. The only way to tame “monkey mind” is to notice it, and in so doing to achieve enough distance from thoughts and feelings that they begin to lessen their grip and no longer run our lives. It’s the difference between you having your thoughts and feelings or them having you. 

Eckert Tolle in A New Earth   has given us an excellent description of this suffering saying that most people’s identity is derived from the contents of their minds and emotions, and not the essential nature of mind which is pure, content-less awareness. Mental and emotional contents form the basis of our identities, the ego or small self. We humans form our identities, likes, dislikes, values, fears and prejudices based on culture, family, personal experience. Our Identities and personal experience of reality on a day-to-day basis remains fairly predictable within a certain range of experience, unless significant change or stress upsets our equilibrium. It is during these periods of stress–and sometimes trauma–when transformation is possible. Otherwise, without some sort of discomfort and unhappiness, we are more likely to remain “fat and happy,” as the saying goes.

The scientific term for this state of balance is homeostasis which is found in all biological systems and is necessary for the continuance of life. Just imagine how counterproductive constant turmoil would be! So, the status quo has its purpose so that trees can get rooted and grow, for example. But in the human realm, the mindset of humanity that has served us through the millenia up until now is precisely what must transform for the species to enjoy a generative future. We’re at a turning point in human consciousness, and all of us are feeling the stress of the world unraveling. We’re being pushed into disequilibrium, toward change.

In my personal life I cannot imagine how I would cope with the busy-ness and stresses I feel each day unless I had some kind of way to ground, be quiet and reflect. This has now become so routine in my life that when I travel I have to work extra hard to keep my balance. 

Many people I know have some way to stay physically or emotionally and spiritually healthy, but that is not the norm in American and other industrial societies. Health reports show us to be increasingly overweight, unhappy with our work, stressed, in conflicted relationships, socially isolated, disenchanted with our institutions and political leadership, not well connected to our communities and living with a feeling that our lives our absent purpose.

This is the time in history for personal responsibility–to realize that we make our own world through how we think. The truth of that statement would be recognized by many people today. But understanding and doing are two different things. You can know what to do that is good for you, but if you are not disciplined enough to put your knowledge into practice, you’re just on  a head trip. Buddha, Christ and all the great spiritual guides make similar points in their teaching.  You won’t really know the path unless you walk it. The wisdom that liberates the mind comes from experience, not books or simple hearing of the truth.

Lao Tzu said “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a first step.” But what keeps us from really committing to that first step?

Here’s some common excuses I’ve heard from many people, including myself from time to time.

  • “I’m so busy, I just can’t seem to find the time.” 
The busiest people always find time for the things they feel are important. So this is a question of beliefs. What if I told you that cultivating stillness in your life was simply THE MOST IMPORTANT THING you could do for yourself and the world? And what if you really believed that? Consider, then, your thoughts about how important caring for your heart and mind are. 
  • “When I take time to be quiet, something always interrupts me.”
At first, there will always seem to be something that gets in the way of being quiet. It may be your children, your spouse or a neighbor making noise, or (more likely) your own rampant thoughts. You’ll need a certain amount of determination to find or make your own space where there can be relative quiet. Also, don’t trip yourself up with thinking the environment has to be without sound altogether for you to get quiet inwardly. It’s possible to have even a deep interior experience when sounds are present, as long as you don’t fixate on the sounds and wish they were not there. The wanting something to be different than it is causes subtle resistance in the mind which is the basis for stress.
  • “When I take time out to be still, nothing happens and I wonder if this is doing any good at all.”
That’s just the point. Nothing is supposed to happen. People with this thought often come to stillness with an agenda that something ought to be happening. They want an immediate payback or proof that taking a time out for themselves is going to be worthwhile. This shows doubt and impatience. If you have similar concerns, simply note them in your mind “Oh, I seem to be impatient,” or ” I notice I’m doubting that this will work,” and then just carry on anyway. The minute you become aware of these states of mind, they begin to lose their power over you.
  • “It’s great to take time out, but I often feel guilty that I should be doing more.”
If you’re driven to be active and doing most of the time, do a check up on your sense of worthiness. Many women I know suffer from low self-esteem where the only way they got recognition for their worth was through what they could do for others. Love conditioned upon what one does for others is no love at all, but a form of manipulation and control. Recognize that false love and the false doing for what it really is.





Audio & Video: Educating for Humanity

Eva Ravenwood has been interviewing me on BlogTalkRadio about my book, Educating for Humanity: Rethinking the Purposes of Education. She goes chapter by chapter. Open these audio files in the pop-up window.

Session #1-I talk about the introduction to the book and a general overview. 

Session #2-I talk about the chapter in my book where I interview with Fritjof Capra.  We speak about the revolutions in science that reveal the interconnected nature of all reality and its implications for society and education. 


Presence & The World We Want

Let me explain why I think presence in the way I define it is so central to individual happiness, social well-being, environmental sustainability and global cultures of peace. 

As I make clear in my book–Educating for Humanity: Rethinking the Purposes of Education–the problem in society and in schools is that we are disconnected from our deeper selves. That core disconnection underlies all other disconnections, causing social injustices, conflict, materialistic appetites, environmental destruction and the entire  spectrum of suffering on the material plane. Until we feel through our inner being a profound communing with all people, beings and life itself, we will continue to trample on each other, on other life forms and Earth our home. This hunger for connection to the largeness in life, is also a hunger for meaning and for the liberating power of imagination when dynamically linked to the great source of all inspiration. 

At the center of all personal crises and of the current world crisis is a spiritual crisis. The religious traditions have been a source of division in failing to touch the formless, mystical core for which all peoples yearn. and, therefore, in not seeing what is universal about their rendering of the ultimate that would create common cause with other traditions.  Presence has been known up till now in its various manifestations as God, Allah, Christ-mind, Buddha-mind, but too few religious leaders (much less their followers) have perceived and honored the spiritual heart common to all humanity. Different cultures at different times perceived a unity, either seeing it as transcendent (as in theistic religions) or immanent (as in indigenous beliefs), but the perception was limited by culture and what was known of the world in that time.

Religions and ideologies which have been a source of meaning and connection for millennia are now needing to broaden their perception of ultimacy and begin to reinterpret the truths of their tradition in light of the integral world as we know it today.  Physics, biology, ecology systems theory and many disciplines have shown the interconnected nature of reality, but our religious, political, economic and educational institutions perpetuate a divided world where competition and domination reign and bring us to ruin.

We now face a globalized world confronting life-threatening issues that cannot be addressed except through exceptional global cooperation and understanding–and this will only occur through the emergence of a planetary consciousness.    

That unity is and has always been there. Humanity is now being called to take the next step, move out of cultural, national, species and even planetary isolation, opening heart & mind to the oneness in all. 

In this light, the presence we need today to teach, parent, love and live life on planet earth is one which is wide open to everything that is, and the only way that can happen is if we surrender to the moment. We can wonder in these darkest of times how such presence can survive in any part of our personal and professional lives, much less environments like public schools which–troubled as they have been–are now suffering even more under the pressure of No Child Left Behind.

What I do know is that in the deepest darkness, any light is tremendously bright. We should not forget that an unsustainable system by its very definition simply cannot last. The world is changing.