Posts Tagged ‘stillness’

5 steps to joy

March 19th, 2018    -    10 Comments


How do we find joy amid chaos?

I’ve been practicing meditation for 25 years now, and this question tells you why. It’s why I do retreats as a student, and it’s why I offer them as a teacher. Each of us, no matter what the circumstances, can find ourselves in a daily struggle to stay sane. And if not completely sane, at least positive. And if not totally positive, than at least moderately hopeful. There is so much going on. We can’t catch up or get ahead. Even our kids are too busy. Everyone is stressed, pressured, and anxious. The outlook is for more of the same. We may feel an urgent need to slow things down, or a depressing belief that nothing we do will make a difference.

We might think that chaos is a unique feature of our 21st century culture, but that isn’t so. True, technology means that we can work 24/7, and we have our devices to thank for our chronic distractibility. We may lack the support of family and friends, and feel disconnected from meaningful relationships. But I bet that you don’t need to look very far back in your family history to find a time when your own ancestors struggled just to maintain adequate food and shelter, or labored under catastrophic wars, disasters, and economic or social injustice. In short, life has always been hard, and often a lot harder than it is now. The proverbial “simpler time” we yearn for might not have been simple at all.

Contemplative practices such as meditation originated many thousands of years ago and haven’t changed. They don’t need to change. They don’t need to be modernized or adapted to the millennial mindset. They depend solely on oneself. And they work. This is what I have observed in my own meditation practice: stillness and silence bring peace, and from that peace springs radiant joy that you can experience for yourself.

It begins in chaos. Are you troubled, confused, anxious or overwhelmed? You’ve taken the first step to joy.

Enter the chaos

All spiritual practices are born in chaos — the shock of loss, the pain of despair, the sobering certainty of old age, sickness and death — the recognition that time swiftly passes and you are not in control. When the world is moving too fast, we always have a choice: to be tossed about by external events, or to center ourselves in the midst.

Drop resistance

The fact is, you’re upset. Frustrated, disappointed and annoyed. Resentful, regretful or indignant. Uncomfortable, uneasy and afraid. Most of us have developed a hard outer edge: the edginess that comes from resisting the way things are. Once you recognize what you are holding on to, you can drop it. It’s a lot of work to haul that extra stuff around, and it makes you feel terrible.

Exhaust yourself

No longer struggling against anything, you might instead feel . . . tired, very tired, and tender, very tender. Your heart softens, and you feel genuine compassion for yourself and others. Everyone is simply doing their best. This is a key step on the journey, because now you are courageous enough to do the most difficult thing of all.

Be still

A great teacher once said, “The effort of no effort is the hardest effort of all.” Using breath as a guide, meditation draws you into the still center of your being. You can stay, rest, and relax there. Your core of stillness, which is pure presence, is the place where healing and transformation occurs.

Enter the silence

Some people approaching their first retreat think that keeping silent will be the biggest challenge for them. I always remind folks that silence is not a prohibition. It is instead an invitation to enter the silence that is already here. Once the mind is quieted and the heart is calmed, everything is exactly as before, but without the noisy rat-a-tat-tat of our judgments. Inner silence harmonizes with all outer activity.

In silence we find quiet joy and gratitude for our life, and for all those who share it with us.

What a useful thing to bring home from retreat. Perhaps you could find out for yourself.


Join me at  Still Summer: A Zen Retreat in Ohio the weekend of July 5-8 in Cincinnati.

being well

March 9th, 2018    -    9 Comments

All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well. —Julian of Norwich

Last weekend I sat in a meditation retreat with a beautiful group of people. Three were in pain from back injuries. Two had recently lost close members of their family. One had a chronic illness; another, cancer. Others were facing vexing uncertainty in employment and finances. Several were overwhelmed with the care of elderly and incapacitated parents. Our youngest participant, a 20-year-old college student, said that because she has difficulty managing her attention and anxiety she was pretty sure she was doing it all wrong.

In short, we were exactly alike, doing what we needed to do in the only place we could be.

Stop weaving and see how the pattern improves. — Rumi

My doctor’s office called a few weeks ago saying that I was overdue for a physical. My last visit was in 2016. How had a whole year disappeared?

I knew how. The year had vanished in a lethal flurry of hurricanes and floods, fires and mass killings. It was swept away in a cyclone of fear, behind a wall of rage. It was crushed by greed, ignorance and ineptitude; infected with hate; buffeted by chaos; and pounded by gale-force lies. Oh yes, I understood why I might have lost track of normal. The world—with me in it—was sick and on life-support, in organ failure, beyond medical intervention. The family had been called in to pray.

We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence.  We need silence to be able to touch souls. —Mother Teresa

At the beginning of every retreat, we set out a blank sheet of lined paper with the title “Sick List.” Everybody is invited to write the names of people to chant for who are sick or suffering, that is, anyone other than themselves. The trick to wellness, you might know, is to see beyond yourself and your sickly preoccupation with your own fear, pain, inadequacy and sorrow. Only then can you see what to do.

Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience. —Ralph Waldo Emerson

At first, the names appear slowly, a dozen or so, the people and pets we know for certain are worse off. Their names are chanted in our morning service. Then, in the mounting hours of silent stillness, our hearts soften and we think of many more. Now there are two dozen names on the paper. We might recall those people we didn’t think we could help, or even want to. Difficult people, distant or estranged, overlooked and then suddenly seen in a sympathetic light. Three dozen, four, five. Spoken, the names flow like a spring river over two sides of two pieces of paper, and fill the room.

Little by little we let everyone into our warming hearts until the last day, when we arrive at a great and humbling truth: that as soon as we stop thinking about ourselves we are one piece with the entire world and everyone in it. No one is left out or forgotten; no one remains unworthy or unloved. And then we can’t help but smile, because we are not sick, we are well and whole.

The way I see it, if the greedy, angry and ignorant can unleash this much evil in the world, each of us, by our own selflessness, can deliver this much good.

Winter Sun Zen Retreat, Madison WI, March 4, 2018

a prayer for the end of time

December 23rd, 2015    -    8 Comments

gardener 4x6_postcard print version

Yesterday I went to the dry cleaner’s in town. I stop by nearly once a week to drop off or pick up a sweater or two, pants or a skirt to be hemmed, my husband’s dress shirts. This place has been continuously operating since 1956. The people there know your name and the last four digits of your phone number, which is how they track your order. Truth is, they probably know a whole lot more just by emptying your pockets and letting out your waistbands. These kinds of places are pretty rare these days. And these days, everything rare seems to be getting rarer. I find myself in mourning.

December 22, the counter lady said when she saw me pause over the check I was writing, another piece of obsolescence I still cling to.

Can you believe it?

It goes by so fast it’s scary.

And it’s getting more scary.

It sure is.

I could have a conversation like this about everything everywhere all the time. It’s all scary. The world is spinning ever faster into extinction. I saw a terrifying documentary on the Discovery Channel. Maybe it’s the news: wave after wave of eternal warfare, the eerily weird climate, and the shocking flood of suffering covering every corner of the earth. Maybe it’s too much Donald Trump. Or just the time of year: the dark, the chill, the fury, the hurry, the end.

Next week, if you let it, a pause will arrive. Take care that you do not fill it with restless anxiety or dread. Take care that you do not fear what you do not know or have not done. Set no goals. Have no intentions. Make no plans. There is a lesson in these fallow days, a lesson that does not come in frantic motion, but in the soft light of a lengthening day.

I am going to sit quietly and enter the fullness of time. Because I have time.

And soon enough I will see that nothing is wasted, nothing is over, and everything is already here. Fear not! The gate is open, and the gardener is not afraid.

May all beings be peaceful.
May all beings be happy.
May all beings be well.
May all beings be safe.
May all beings be free from suffering.

Photo by Wendy Cook.

Subscribe to my newsletter • Come to a retreat • Friend me • Follow me.

let it snow

December 12th, 2012    -    8 Comments

It is the silent season and yet it is so hard to find quiet at this time of year. Busy making ready, in a hurry to finish, we can fret away nature’s patient calm in the blur of a frantic ending.

I spent half a day looking for a video of snow falling without added music or special effects. Why do we think we need music or special effects? This one-minute video inspires soundlessly. I post it here so I can look at it over and over, and let go of everything that will disappear if I try to hold on.

If you subscribe by email and cannot see the video, click here.

archives by month

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.