It's been a busy few days, or at least it feels that way. The weekend was very full with visits to several local farms in an annual event called the Piedmont Farm Tour, a great lunch with a friend, grocery shopping, working out, and all the plans needed to keep these many things straight. I've been engaged in multiple tasks at work, all of which involve intense, detailed analysis; some tedious work also requires concentration; and wondering when the people I need to communicate with will return my phone calls. A prominent website recently posted a review about an exciting new camera, which has led to a flurry of activity on my favorite online photography forum, which I feel compelled to keep up with. I've been thinking about a deep conversation I had with a friend last night about meditation and Buddhist philosophy as I try to sort out the nature of the mind, self, and reality. It's only Tuesday, but I already find myself thinking about plans for next weekend. And for quite some time, I've been trying to figure out what to write in this new blog post. I've been feeling somewhat anxious with all these (and many more) things going on, as well as sometimes feeling upset, lonely, joyful, annoyed, and pleased.
This is a still mind?
It all seems very scattered. But what I've described is thoughts and feelings, not mind. Notice also that there is awareness of the thoughts and feelings--being able to describe them implies a knowing of the thoughts and feelings, an awareness that was present while the thoughts and feelings were occurring. The thoughts arise, change, and fall away over the course of the day and from one moment to the next. Feelings and moods do as well. But behind all of these is the mind which knows. The mind is not the thoughts or the feelings. The mind is not the activity, the tension, or the movement. Underlying the mental activity is stillness. Not an object or an entity that is still, but just . . . stillness. It is possible to get in touch with this stillness, to "see" it, and then to see the thoughts and feelings as they arise; as the self clings to them, churns on them, and pushes them away; and as they fall back into the stillness.
I don't really understand the mechanism behind this. I have no good explanation for how or why the mind works this way. I can't even state explicitly what stillness is. But I experience it regularly--many times each day, and more and more frequently as I progress in my meditation practice. I have read many metaphors that try to describe it. One likens the mind to the sky, and thoughts to clouds. The clouds pass in front of the sky and obscure the clear nature of the sky, but they do not in any way taint the clarity of the sky or change its nature. This metaphor hints at one aspect of the mind--clarity--but does not really capture the experience of knowing or stillness. Several schools of Buddhist philosophy try to put stillness into words. The words can give us a concept of mind or awareness or stillness, but concepts are just more thoughts. The only way to understand stillness to experience it directly, without concepts or ideas or beliefs about what it is or how it feels.
Stillness does not imply a lack of motion or activity. While the thoughts and feelings expressed in the opening paragraph were moving (sometimes racing) through my mind, while my body was tensing in anxiety or clenching in annoyance or bristling with joy, stillness was present. And there was awareness of both the activity and the stillness. Stillness is always here. The reason we don't often see it is that we tend to automatically identify with the thoughts and feelings--with the clouds that obscure the clarity and stillness of the mind. By practicing notice the thoughts and feelings and to release the identification with them, we can experience a still mind.