The Sanity of Stillness

When you are lost in the forest, stand still. Native American proverb 

Imagine being lost in a forest and it is getting darker. Your instinct is to start running, your mind races and your breathing becomes labored–you are panicking. Nothing good happens with this mindset. Invariably your situation worsens because fear and anxiety have taken over. I love this quote. I think about it when stress and panic start to raise their ugly heads within me. And I seek stillness for direction.

When I was younger, I was advised to “smell the roses.” To slow down and notice with all my senses what is in front of me. Wiser people, including my parents, tried to warn me about the blur. The blur of life from rushing past everything, to be “important”, to do “important things”.

In graduate school, I was given this sage advice for emotional moments:
Stop—-Breathe—-Notice—-Reflect—-Respond
Slowing down, brings consciousness about our breathing, gets us to focus on being our best selves or to not do something we will regret.

It is not what happens to you, by how you react to it that matters. Epictetus

Later in my career I was introduced to meditation. My first reaction was meditation was self-indulgent and a waste of time. A sign of privilege. That doing something was more important than self-discovery. While there is great inequity in the access to the skills and practices that generate inner peace, –meditation, yoga, and mindfulness are regrettably symbols of privilege, my superficial judgment of meditation was so off. Meditation is real.

We desperately need to calm ourselves. To achieve some stillness and quiet. To let the lizard mind subside and let the heart take control. Inner peace is an amazing source of energy.

When the dust settles the view is clear, the water is transparent, what is real can be seen. We all seek clarity and truth.

For me, trying to be so many things, to impress so many people, to exceed the expectations of others generated so much dust. And with that dust comes the harsh winds of judgment that whip up more dust. The inner voice of negativity, of inadequacy that always pushed me further from my true self.

I had the good fortune to meet with the founders of Headspace, Imagine Clarity and Healthy Minds (great starter) just to name a few. I learned that an app alone was not a solution. Only when you are willing to open your mind and heart would the benefits of meditation be reaped. That you have to be a seeker of the good, your good. I will never forget my conversation with Matthieu Ricard, the renowned neuroscientist turned Buddhist monk and co-founder of Imagine Clarity said to me.

Mindfulness and meditation alone are not enough. It is a bit too optimistic to take for granted that meditation will automatically make you a better person. A calm and clear mind is not a guarantee for ethical behavior. There can be mindful assassins and calm psychopaths who maintain a focused mind.

Photo by Matthieu Ricard

At the end of 2019, I met Mandar Apte and he taught me SKY Meditation, a unique rhythmic breath-based system that enables a meditative state. It has been part of my daily practice for the last 18 months. Like all skills that matter, it must become a habit, a commitment. To sharpen the saw. To build on your awareness and insight. For me, SKY meditation gave me the gift of stillness where I can hear and listen to my true self.

Your true self is only understood when you stop. Stop to breathe to listen to yourself.   You can’t grasp it, understand it, until you step back and reflect upon it. Until you pause and take inventory and truly see. Seeing without the influences of others and the buzz of the screens that trigger the thoughts. Thoughts that cloud the mind and generate a fog of dust where your true self gets lost, obscured and forgotten. 

Who are you?
What is your true identity?
What do you stand for?
Why are we here?

The voices of our hearts and souls are stifled by the din of activity, transactions, busyness and the blaring noise of other people’s expectations.

Heard many people say they “work” to find inner peace. But they treat it like a pit stop at the Indy 500. A brief respite to keep going faster on the same racetrack. But what I hear them say is:
Yeah I meditate, do yoga—how else could I keep up this pace of self-absorption and greed. 

Meditation is not magic. But we must stop running around in circles hoping we will find our way.

But we are not taught the value and discipline of breathing and serenity. Exploring and deepening the adoption of a practice in meditation, yoga, mindfulness will help you achieve stillness in your beautiful forest.

Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent. Parker Palmer

Thanks for reading.  John

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