Every place we choose to inhabit reflects who we are. We surround ourselves with objects that hold meaning for us and perhaps tell a story of our lives. Although they might be pleasing things, it is not their intrinsic loveliness, intrigue, or aesthetics that warms a living space and makes it the place where we feel at ease.
This feeling of connectivity and welcome is a direct reflection of how at home we feel within ourselves. It is this inner belonging that allows us to create a congruency with the world surrounding us. Our interior lives then become a bridge to the outer world. But where does this feeling come from? How do we find it?
Stillness offers a place where we can understand this experience of connection. I once listened to a meditation teacher describe the attainment of inner stillness as similar to watching a glass of unfiltered apple juice settle after it has been poured. It takes several moments for the residue to slowly come to rest and allow the clarity of the juice to reveal itself.
When we let our personal stories, moods, concerns, and preferences settle, we land in a deeper part of our being. From this place of stillness, we can view life without the usual hubbub of continuously arising thoughts and emotions. When we stop reacting to everything around us and become a witness to our own selves, we experience a deep calm. This is what the Buddhists call calm abiding; we see the world as a baby sees it, aware of everything all at once, without conscious selection and interpretation.
From this viewpoint, we notice ourselves as being part of a much greater whole. In stillness, with our minds at rest, we witness ourselves without judgment. We feel our core being as something more than our current mind state, regardless of whether it be comfortable or uncomfortable. In fact, we become familiar with the habits of mind that can cause suffering (comparison, judgment, anger, annoyance, and fear to name a few) without identifying with them.
In noticing this pattern, we begin to understand that the mind is often operating with or without our approval. It loves to tell stories, solve problems, and invent new ideas. In addition, it can also judge harshly, become agitated, and cre- ate separation. This is simply the nature of our minds.
I know you’ve heard the word mindfulness before. Being mindful means noticing your own emotional habits, including the ones that cause confusion and unhappiness. When you are experiencing a difficult situation or complicated feelings, assume the role of a witness. By doing so, you can identify these emotions and see them as separate from your inner being, that part of you that exists before you have a thought.
Experiencing your state of mind from this perspective allows you the freedom to choose how you want to respond. It might just be that you let any feelings of sadness, anger, or worry pass over like clouds in the sky. You can be sure with time they will depart. One thing we all can count on is change.
THE PRESENT MOMENT
Once, while sitting with my thoughts during a ten-day silent meditation retreat, I realized there were about seven different recordings my mind would play, including Am I Good Enough?, When is Lunch? (also known as Foods that I Love), and What I Am Going to Do When I Get Home. These same thoughts had been completely dominating my experience since the beginning of the retreat.
After six days of listening to each one over and over, they became recognizable. Noticing this allowed me to gently quiet these thoughts. When they arrived unbidden, I would say thank you for their concern and interest and breathe them out into stillness.
For a few seconds at a time I was finally able to rest without interruption and notice the present moment, which for me was life changing. It was an experience of freedom. And of course, after a few breaths, the next thought would appear. But during those brief interludes when I found respite from my own inner chattering, I also found something else. I found me. Allowing my thoughts to settle, I felt deeply at home.
The capacity to act with loving kindness flourishes when grounded in this understanding. When I escape from the habits of judgment and reactivity, my spirit becomes buoyant and expansive. I feel kinder toward myself and everyone around me. The restorative and spacious expanse of stillness offers a sanctuary for our spirits. Living into this, if only for a few breaths each day, is a great habit to incorporate into our lives.
Mimi Morton Buckley has worked as a potter, architect, visual designer, school founder, writer, and mother of three. She enjoys humor, stillness, and helping things grow. Happiest when surrounded by friends and family, she can often be found on a mountain in Northern California with her very supportive husband and a collection of well-loved animals.