When we observe the world, change is everywhere. Flowers bloom and fade. Rain falls and the water seeps away into the ground or a flood sweeps away our houses. We age and wrinkles accumulate where once there were none. New technology fills our lives. Coronavirus evolves before our eyes.
In our everyday lives we are caught up in everything that is changing, everything in motion: getting hungry and eating; whether it is hot or raining; who won the election; the latest trend. Our eyes are drawn to the ever-changing scene, the newest fashions, the newest political scandal, the flickering light of screens. Our senses are primed to notice change. The first bite of pie is always the sweetest. Someone moves in the corner of our vision and we turn our heads to look. We ask each other “what’s new?” We never ask – “what has stayed the same?”
Impermanence or constant change is one of the core teachings of Buddhism. And yet…underlying all this constant change, each embedded in the other, is a fundamental stillness. What is this stillness and how can we perceive it?
It is much harder to see that which is unchanging; the stillness which is the core of existence. Yet the unchanging, what is sometimes called “the unborn”, or “the essential ground” or “your face before your parents were born”, is the very stuff of which we are. But like the fish that cannot detect the water it swims in; we cannot easily detect the unchanging stillness.
We have to sit very very still just to catch a whiff of it.
Why does it matter to see this stillness? Because it is ancient and timeless. Because it reveals the deepest essence of who you are. To know that every in-breath is a function of the whole of existence from the beginning of time. That every out-breath leads to the timeless future. That your chest, rising and falling is all of existence breathing you.
When you still the body and still the mind, when you sink deeply into this stillness, then you may begin to perceive that this very stillness is none other than you yourself.
All of this motion around us is a phantom, drawing our eye away from the great, immovable depth which is reality.
Outer stillness is much easier than inner stillness, inner silence. Inner silence means not judging what is silence and what is not; what is stillness and what is not. Although the practice of meditation, of stilling the body and mind helps us perceive true stillness, do think that it creates it. Movement and stillness are not two. The world of stillness and the world of motion are the same world. True stillness is sitting, brushing teeth, making breakfast, washing up. True stillness is not thinking about who is doing these things; not thinking “is this stillness?” When we see this clearly, there is no way to draw the eye away again.