Archimedes, the famous astronomer and mathematician from Syracuse, Sicily, who lived in the third century B.C.E. is purported to have said: “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum to place it on and I shall move the very earth.” I use this wonderful image as a metaphor for what is called the Still Point of Existence in such a fashion as to underline the potency of attaining this point of being whereupon we can literally embody the very sentiments of the Desiderata, the first verse of which runs:
Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.
In this sense, we may move our very world in a spiritual or transcendent way. Let me proceed, then, and explain what we mean by the Still Point of Existence.
We can so easily get lost in the seemingly endless routine of our lives. Oftentimes that routine can be more than burdensome and can prove stressful in the extreme. It is at those very moments that we need oases of peace and calm, even short periods where we can “recollect” ourselves and enter the very stillness of our being. I like the terms which I have heard retreat leaders use over the years, namely that retreating from the frenzy of life’s routine is an exercise in “re-collect-ing” or “re-member-ing” the real self, that is literally putting the “real self” (Carl Rogers’ term) or the “true self” (Ronnie Laing’s expression of the same phenomenon) together, finding a restorative unity in our very being.
How, then, do we access, even momentarily, this Still Point of Being, from which we can lever our own everyday lived experiences beyond the point of succumbing to needless stress and frustration. For me the answer has been found most especially in practising meditation (though I find it in reading, writing, walking and gardening as well!) As a meditator for some forty years now, I find that practising for even twenty minutes a day is sufficient, though I do try to get in two such sessions per day – one in the morning before going to work and the other before going to bed. Such daily practice allows one to access the Still Point, or Balancing Point, if you like, so much more readily and to put all the smaller annoying and soul-destroying stuff of daily routine into perspective. It allows you a better optic on the small things, which it trains you, as the saying goes, “not to sweat.”
Meditation is never a running away from our problems or a way to escape reality. No, rather, it is the very opposite. In so doing, we are really cutting through the thick cloud of irrelevancies and superficialities that clog the very cogs of our being, to use a very clumsy metaphor, till we are faced with the real and true issues of our authentic selves. Raaz Kasyap in a wonderful recent post on this site puts this sentiment ever so clearly:
The real purpose of meditation isn’t to tune out and get away from it all but to tune in and get in touch with your true Self. In Meditation you dive below the mind’s churning surface, which tends to be filled with repetitive thoughts about the past and worries about the future, into the still point of pure consciousness. In this state of transcendent awareness, you let go of all the stories you’ve been telling yourself about who you are, what is limiting you, and where you fall short. As you practice on a regular basis, you cleanse the windows of perception and your clarity expands.
Indeed, as a practising part-time counsellor, I have used meditation techniques, often with some helpful visualisations in my therapy sessions. Such techniques allow the person to face their problems or issues in a supportive and safe environment. In the above paragraph Raaz uses the term “still point” which is one of my all-time favourite expressions or descriptors with respect to the benefits of meditation.
Another term used for Meditation, which has far too much religious overtones in our more secular age, is that of Mindfulness – a far more neutral and bland term indeed. In general, the two words have now become interchangeable. A further refinement of meditation has been the work of Dr Eugene Gendlin who has spearheaded an approach to mindfulness that has become very popular in psychotherapy and indeed can be used in pairs or triads with willing practitioners on their own, without the presence of a therapist. Focusing is a psychotherapeutic process that involves paying attention systematically to how the body is holding a relevant issue for the practitioner. Whether done in pairs or in threes, it is a method of holding a non-judging attention to an internal knowing which is directly experienced but is not yet revealed in words. In that sense it is pre-verbal, but the meditator sits with his/her issue until the body suggests some image, or, in the words of Dr Gendlin, some “handle” on the relevant concern. Again, the body is in the “now” and focusing on how the practitioner is holding his or her issues is central to the process. Hence, this method shares a lot with the process of meditation.
Focusing has been very helpful to me in my daily routine as its practice, like that of general meditation, allows me to “check in” with my body in a much more attentive way. Before I start class – I am a teacher – I normally go to the press and as I’m opening the door to take out the relevant class material I spend several moments checking in, just seeing how it goes with my body at that moment, or how I am physically holding X or Y issue and so forth. Again, this is all about awareness. In a recent course I did on Panic Attacks the facilitator recommended that we get any clients who may experience such a random attack to engage all the senses one by one by way of rooting them in the “now” by feeling something (touch), noting something visually (sight), attending to something aurally (hearing), tasting something (taste) and sniffing some nice scent, say that of a plant. Again, one can see that meditative techniques can very much help the sufferer to root themselves in the “now” of experience. All traditions of meditation get the meditator to return to the body and especially to the breath, which is the very source and summit of our physical being. My very first teacher in meditation always recommended that if ever we were distracted that we simply returned to our breath. Another phrase he had the habit of using if he saw someone stressed was: “Remember to breathe!”
Through the various practices of meditation, well explained by many of this site’s bloggers from the perspectives of many different traditions, we may gain access to the Still Point, one amazing consequence of which is the ability to be silent and still no matter what is happening about us. It is often informative to say what something is not in order to more deeply appreciate what it is. I remember once when a meditator friend and I were attending a conference in a very large venue where there were many meetings and seminars taking place when an enraged person (their gender obviously is irrelevant) exited a room and reminded us to be quiet as they were meditating. We both laughed heartedly as this untimely eruption when the person had disappeared back into their sanctuary. They exhibited anything but an appreciation for silence. In fact, the noise was in their own mind not in the outside world. Silence, as any meditator will tell you is not the absence of sound, but rather the stillness of the meditator. In the stillness of meditation, the meditator sits calmly listening to the actual sound of silence no matter what the surrounding sounds may be.
One knows one has, as it were, access to the Still Point when one can sit and give assent to the sentiments expressed in the wonderfully calming words of the Desiderata, the final verse of which runs:
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore, be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him (Her or It) to be.
And whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.