How to Find Refuge in Stillness (One Simple Practice for Daily Life)
Things are always changing. The clock ticks, the sun rises and sets, seedlings sprout, leaves turn from green to brown and fall, we grow up, skin wrinkles and hair turns grey. The snow in winter is replaced by flowers in spring, warm winds in summer and then the colours and calm of autumn.
You’re sad about something for a while and then it passes and joy comes to visit. Later a moment of fear, then love, then doubt and then joy again. You eat an ice cream, it’s delicious, and then it’s gone. The mind flits from hopes to fears to daydreams to to-do lists and past and future, in constant motion.
Connections with people in our lives wax and wane, come and go. Babies are born, grow and leave home. Break ups, new loves, friendships all coming and going in chapters, endings and new beginnings. Nothing is permanent. Things are in constant motion.
Impermanence often brings us many changes we enjoy. It’s quite gorgeous to be able to watch the clouds passing overhead or the moon rising in the night sky. Most adults are (very) glad to put their teenage years behind them. I am grateful that the suffering I experienced 20 years ago has transformed me into who I am today and led me to greater self-awareness, compassion and an ability to help others out of their own distress. And it’s also only because of billions of years of change and evolution that we have music and art or that I can even type these words and you can read them.
Fundamentally, if impermanence didn’t exist, nothing could happen, reality would be frozen still. In the words of peace activist, monk and poet Thich Nhat Hanh “Because of impermanence everything is possible”
Although we can clearly see the upside of impermanence, change is not always welcome is it? Oh, no. It can be very hard for us to accept indeed. Some changes can be painful, frightening or even heartbreaking. Families, loves and friendships drift apart, our bodies age, we experience failures and the loss of people we love. The flowers wilt in the vase, economies crash, forests are cut down, the planet begins to warm, the climate to change.
Everything we try to hold onto changes and leaves. Perhaps most difficult to accept of all is our own impermanence and coming to grips with the loss of life itself.
Impermanence can be hard to come to terms with. When you truly open to the fact that in each moment all things are arising, unfolding and dissolving – and that nothing is stable, permanent or fixed, it can feel unnerving and stressful. Time just keeps sweeping us along in its current.
When something pleasant, beautiful or wanted arises in the flow of our lives we often grasp onto it tightly. We try to keep it the same…but inevitably it changes or dissolves again, slipping right through our fingers, right under our noses, often leaving us feeling disappointed, frustrated or sad.
Yet it is also true that as this dance of life is unfolding there is one thing that always remains ever-present. A stillness at the heart of who you are. A silent awareness. The space in which the dance of life is always unfolding.
In that stillness you can find refuge: a shelter from the storms and seasons of life, a quiet in the midst of the chaos, a connection to the part of you that transcends the passing of time and changing forms. In that stillness you can find a home within yourself: a place to rest out of the race, a wellspring of ever-available love and wholeness.
One of the central teachings of all the world’s wisdom traditions is this – anything that changes is not a reliable place to find lasting fulfilment. Fulfilment is cultivated from within, by waking up to this deeper dimension of who we are… and letting it flow into our lives more and more.
How do we do that?
Of course, meditation has long been practiced as a way of waking up to the stillness and silence inside and I highly recommend it.
But today I’d like to share another simple way to invite this awareness into your everyday life.
Notice and create moments of space and stillness.
It’s not quite the same as ultimate stillness, but there are moments when the house is quiet and there is nothing left to do. Moments when you find yourself sitting in relative peace. Most of the time when these moments come we tend to fill them and start ‘doing’ again but why not relish the stillness? Why not open yourself to that stillness fully? Take a pause from the momentum of your life and luxuriate in time to just to be.
When you’re waiting at a traffic light or in a line or any time you stop – these can also be opportunities to touch in. To wake up. To notice the stopping and the stillness as a spiritual practice.
See if you can invite more moments of stillness and presence into your days. A two minute rest under a tree. A one-minute mini-meditation after you get into your car before driving off. A short pause before sending an email. Punctuate your day will little moments of stillness like this.
More subtly, begin to pay attention to moments of space and stillness in the flow of your life – like that momentary pause between your inhale and exhale or the silence between sounds.
Be attentive, whenever you can, to the spaces between thoughts. In your mind there is always an unchanging field of awareness, itself never altered by the thoughts or experiences passing through it.
Whenever possible, sense into that still ever-present awareness.
Everything that changes has an unchanging stillness at its heart.
Where logic and language may fail, you might sense something sacred in that stillness. Or, perhaps have an intuition that you are a part of something much larger than yourself. Though it might defy explanation you may even touch a wholeness and oneness at the heart of who you are.
Give yourself the space and permission to enjoy moments of stillness – to lean into them, to be nourished by them, to let them full you up, open your heart and anchor you in the depths of who you are. Let stillness be a teacher and a friend. As my favourite poet, Rumi says, “Listen, silence isn’t empty, it is full of the answers.”
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