Peace in Chaos
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It is Christmas time again and our attention starts to turn away from our meditation practice and more towards buying presents and socializing. It can be a very busy time of year as well as stressful, finding time to have a break from it all can be difficult. During this time of year we tend to overextend ourselves, overeat, and over celebrate, basically over everything. All plans to stay healthy go out the window, there is always next year, we can worry about getting healthy then, after all this is a time to celebrate and have fun.
I want you all to have fun and enjoy your break, but I am not going to let you off that easily, because our meditation practice is not just something we do in class, it can be and is meant to be part of our whole life. After all meditating would have little use other then the possibility of getting blissed out for an hour if it didn’t affect the happiness of our day to day living. Thankfully meditation does affect it, when practiced correctly and brought into our daily activities it has the effect of smoothing out our lives. Of removing the extreme ups and downs of the roaring seas of our emotions and making our life smooth like a still lake.
Peace in the Chaos
It is possible to find peace in all the chaos of the Christmas season, we can enjoy Christmas without letting our emotions run wild. It is also possible to avoid overeating and drinking, we don’t need large reserves of will power to resist that extra bit of cake or to say no to too much wine or beer. We just need to bring our meditation practice into our normal lives, bring the strong awareness cultivated during formal practice into everything that we do; this becomes an equalizer for everything.
When cultivated, awareness creates space, it allows us be able to step back and observe our relationship to experiences. This separation created through increased awareness stops us from getting lost in our thoughts and emotions, lost in the constant flow. It gives us room to make informed decisions through silent awareness, instead of through the flow of thoughts and emotions which colour our view of reality. Through practice we can bring this awareness into our daily life, cultivate it and create the same space around everything that we do.
To do this it is helpful to have an anchor, one that we can use to keep our attention in the present moment. During formal meditation practice we use an object, such as the breath at the nose tip, to anchor our attention. During everyday life a practical object to use and cultivate is our sense of touch, body awareness. One obvious touch point is the feeling of our feet touching the floor; we can use this as our primary object, anchoring our attention into the present moment. Our feet are always touching the ground unless we are jumping for joy or standing on our head, so as long as we don’t get too excited it makes a great anchor.
This gives us a reference point, one to return to when we find ourselves lost in the busyness of our day to day lives. We are then able to keep our attention in the present moment, stopping us from getting caught up in thoughts, dragged off into thinking about the past and the future. This is our protection, a refuge which we can go to whenever things seem out of control. The cultivation of awareness of our body works to protect us and keep us grounded.
This works because our attention can only rest on one object in any moment; we cannot be lost in thoughts and feel the sensations in our feet at the same time. The mind is quick so it can seem like it is multitasking, but in reality it is jumping from one object to another. Anchoring the mind, our attention on one point silences it; it gives us a rest, some peace.
Try it Now:
Sitting down or standing place your feet flat on the ground
Place your attention on the soles of your feet and ‘feel’ the sensations within them
You may feel hardness, heat, cold, vibration, tension, regardless just be aware of these sensations
Continue to hold this attention, not thinking about anything
Now notice that while you are holding your attention on the soles of your feet all thinking has stopped
There – you have experienced silence awareness
Now walk around and try doing other activities like washing the dishes, opening a door, reading or talking to someone and notice how you can hold the awareness in the soles of your feet whilst doing it.
Feel how easy it is and how anchored you feel.
This silence, that can be developed through awareness of our body, can be cultivated anywhere and all the time. Not only does it help make our life run smoother but it also helps with the deepening of meditation during formal practice. From this platform we can observe all our thoughts and emotions without getting tangled up in them, we no longer feed them. For it is our participation in thoughts and emotions that feeds them and encourages them to return again and again, silent awareness breaks this cycle.
Taking it One Step Further
Much of the unhappiness we experience in our lives comes from our desire to control, our desire for things to be a certain way. And if they aren’t that way then ‘watch out’! Meditation teaches us that on the surface level we may seem to have some control over life, but when we try to do something as simple as watch the breath we find that the opposite is true. Meditation also teaches us that the more we try to control, to fight the flow of change, the more chaotic it becomes.
Giving up Control
Meditation is a platform from which we can study our relationship with the world; through the understanding of this relationship we then learn what brings more peace into our lives and what brings more suffering. We come to understand through formal meditation practice how obsessive our thinking is and how little control we actually have over it.
Actually if meditation teaches us one thing it’s about our desire to control the world, the desire to manipulate it to fit the ideal image in our head, including something as simple as our breath. Through our practice we come to notice how little control we actually have, we can’t control our thinking, sensations in our body, external sounds or even our ability to concentrate on one thing. This at first can appear as a failure, but it is not, it is our teacher teaching us about control and about letting go, for it is only when we let go of control that things start to flow again.
Trying to control experience is like trying to grab onto things in a quickly flowing river, it causes friction, it causes pain, it is only when we understand we have no control that we learn to let go. Letting go is the basis of all meditation, this is what it teaches us to do, and it is also the process that allows meditation to progress, for the awareness to grow and concentration to develop. If you have ever experienced any peace / stillness in your meditation practice, this is a result of your letting go, letting go of your relationship with the world.
Like Venerable Achaan Chah said:Do everything with a mind that lets go. Do not expect any praise or reward. If you let go a little, you will have a little peace. If you let go a lot, you will have a lot of peace. If you let go completely you will know complete peace and freedom. Your struggles with the world will come to an end.
Letting go is the path to finding peace in chaos, accepting lack of control, trusting the flow, putting our feet up and going along for the ride. This is what meditation teaches us, not just during formal meditation, but for the whole of our life. This does not mean floating aimlessly through life, but knowing that all our plans may not turn out the way we envisioned them. Instead we make our decisions based on what life hands to us instead of what we think it should, in this way we flow with life more and place our trust in that flow.
Meditation in Life
Meditation is picking the kids up from school, cleaning the house, going to work, being married or swimming down the beach. Being aware of our relationship to everything is the object of meditation, the place to build awareness, to become more present. It’s a gift of peace that is just waiting to be claimed; if only we make the effort to pick it up.
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This article was written by Stephen Procter, instructor from Tai Chi Health for Life, Australian College of Tai Chi & Qi Gong and Meditation Instructor from Meditation in the Shire, Kirrawee NSW, Australia. If you wish to post this article on another website or in a publication please respect the author and reference / link back to this website, thank you