December 2, 2013

The Art of Inner Stillness. ~ Kristen Coyle

Over the years, I have become aware of my impatience with the process of life.

I have realized within my behavior and way of carrying myself in the world, I have been conditioned—or rather, conditioned myself—to need, to possess all that is beautiful as my own, to control and “manage” my destiny in ways that are co-dependent and dysfunctional time and time again.

Ironically, I have masked this with a consistent yoga practice, lifestyle, and professional life which keep me constantly aware of the present moment at hand in a beautiful way.

Although this is excellent, when I sit in stillness, I feel an overwhelming sadness wash over me, and the mind spirals into corners that can bring me to my knees if I let it. Years ago my Reiki teacher, Judy Theiss, told me that I would always have a challenging life if I kept running from the issues at hand through various partners, travelling, and sensory indulgent experiences.

She told me to, “Stop running away,” and “be within my center.” I took it deeply to heart, (but did not follow it right away) noting that she was asking me to stay still to process my emotional backlog, as I had just told her that I was heading out on a journey a week from the day far South for as long as I could stay gone.

Her advice to not run away echoed in my mind as I departed, and I allowed it to simmer in my thoughts for years. No shit, it still echoes. I even forced myself to live in situations that were acutely dangerous for the sake of sitting within my own life and digesting it—not running away, but rather “processing” it as she taught me. Albeit rather extremist to do so.

Being told to stop running away by such an enlightened being was by far the single most powerful piece of advice I have received in this lifetime.

She was asking me, in a  subtle and profound way, even through the journey, to find and be within stillness, even as the world moved around me.

I realized she was not telling me to never go anywhere in my life, but to remain within my center wherever life took me, and move from that stillness. Much like the idea of Samsara (the repeating cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth),  the wheel spins around and around, but at the center stillness always abides.

Often times it is seemingly easier to move about in the world in a way that is far from center, rather influenced by societal and genetic conditioning. But what exactly was I running away from? I certainly had heard the concept of being “centered,” but had no real tangible affirmation of it within myself.

Occasionally, I get glimpses of the true nature of reality, but that is beyond words most of the time. More often than not, I feel as if I’m “faking it til I make it,” adhering to what I believe is true north for me and also sharing compassion and love with all living beings, as much as I am capable of.

You know the holy type, scooping the cockroaches with two pieces of paper and putting them outside, naming the spiders that built their webs in the corner of my porch, not cooking out of pans if meat had touched them ever, offering all of my food to wooden dieties before even tasting it, staying in relationships long past their expiration date because I didn’t know what to do next or didn’t want to hurt that person even though it hurt me more to be with them, doing too many back bends, waking at 4:00 a.m. every morning to do yoga before I taught all day into the evening (can you imagine how moody I was by the end of the day? I can barely open my eyes before 8:00 a.m., which is not advisable if practicing ahimsa (nonviolence) is a priority). I could go on and on about the many ways I have thought I was processing my emotions and life and intentions. It is pretty amazing to observe what lengths we will go to, to find a glimmer of enlightenment, or hope.

Something has shifted lately within me though.

Suddenly mastering yoga poses does not seem as important as sitting where I am within them and observing my mind. Somehow within this paradigm, though I have been “practicing” for the past several years and I have made progress, I have an overriding feeling of emptiness and delusion when I sit in stillness to meditate. All of the “stuff” I have run away from arises in my thought stream.

My teacher, Heather, calls this spiritual bypass, where through a few affirmations, a “spiritual practice”, some external acoutraments (maybe some fancy yoga pants, feather earrings, the right mala around the wrist…), and countless distractions, one never ventures below the surface, they only take life at face value, oftentimes seeing a division within what is good and bad rather than accepting all experiences as valid, truth revealing unfolding experiences of life as we know it.

Seeing a division between good and bad, you and me, us and them, is known as dvaita, or duality. When we see ourselves as separate from the whole, we create a sense of disconnection from the vital life force that is always available to us, within us. When one is living in separation, as in thinking they only need themselves to survive, it is quite easy to see others suffer and continue to enjoy life all the while. They could pass by a hungry child with bags of food and not even drop a dime, or a banana.

On the other hand, when one has had a taste of the oneness we all are, how much we need each other in this life, one who has been immersed in the inter-connectedness of all beings, and faced with a similar scenario, he cannot so easily pass on the hungry child in the street. As stated in the Bhagavad Gita, “Him I hold to be the Supreme Yogi, Arjuna, who looks on the pleasure and pain of all beings as he looks on them in himself.” The concept on advaita, or non-duality, reminds us that all living beings and matter are interconnected. God is not some cloud in the sky, God is within the hearts of all. We consist of the same essential nature. That nature is pure divinity.

As I begin to cultivate unconditional love within myself, I care more about others. I have learned it is important to love people not only in the entry into your life, be it friend, beggar, lover, challenging friend, animal, but also in their exit from your life, or transition of roles, for example, lover to friend, or teacher to student, to student evolving beyond the teacher and teaching the teacher.

Instead of reactivity, where I venture far from my center and run away from myself, essentially, it is easier to be still and respond to life and others when sitting within my center. Why? Because life is effortless if you live in Love.

I realized at some point in my own misery, what I was running away from all this time was the brilliance of my own heart.

I have realized, the art of not running away—or being within my stillness as I prefer to call it—is sitting within one’s own center, one’s heart center.

“For the mind, O Krishna, is restless, turbulent, powerful, and obstinate. To control it, is as hard, it seems to me, as to control the wind.” ~ Bhagavad Gita.

I get asked all the time by students how to calm the mind, how to control the mind from wandering late into the night? It is quite simple: breathe into the heart center. Feel your electromagnetic field emanating from the Supreme Self within you. Radiate it outwardly. Let the mental dialogue play itself out, witness it from a place of unconditional love. Sure, by deeply feeling your heart, you will also become aware of the emotional backlog as it unfurls in the mind as grief, anger, depression, guilt, fear. But from a place of watchful compassion, witness it.

It is the mind that wants to run away, but remember that the mind is a tool to be used in accordance with the higher prajna, or radiant wisdom that arises through steady awareness.

The mind is simply a mechanism to help you function. The heart, and the citta (consciousness) contain this higher  intelligence. To sit in stillness the heart must be in the driver’s seat, not the mind. If we let the mind run the show, our thoughts will drive us to madness. We’ll wake up halfway around the world with the same problems. We’ll meet people to play the exact same characters that we ran away from in the first place.

If we empty the mind enough, and sit with all of the chatter, allowing ourselves to be fully in the process, from the seat of the Self within the heart, eventually the dialog and emotions that create that dialogue, will play themselves out.

We will be left with utter stillness.

Something that can never ever come from outside of ourselves until we realize that nothing is outside of us. When we calm the thoughts, what is left is the residual emotions behind them. As we release the residual emotions, what remains is stillness. The heart contains the Self, which is also known as the internal witness, or the atma, soul. The heart is unconditional love, willing to stand beside us in all of the variety of experiences we are capable of in this incarnation. So much so that it will reliably beat every moment that we are alive.

When we realize this same internal witness is within all living beings, we realize all is one. Once we have had a taste of this stillness and oneness within our own heart, it will instantly be felt by others. So much so, that our presence alone will facilitate others dropping from the mind into the heart.

Be a light unto ourselves first. Stoke the fire of our own heart by unconditionally loving ourselves and others. Stay still when things get intense, we are strong enough to weather any storm, that is why we are here, to be within the question of life. To fall in love with the Great Mystery. When we ignite the heart fire, remember, this is a light that does not burn out, but only illuminates countless other flames.

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Editor: Jane Henderling

{photo via  Moyan_Brenn on Flickr}


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Kristen Coyle