When I silently talk to myself, I ask the question, “What is this?’ That simple Zen question can be a doorway into stillness. Stillness and silence are not the same. Meditation is associated with silence. In the beginning that silence may be external as we attempt to establish ourselves in a practice in a peaceful environment. Inner silence, the quieting of our internal noise is a result of a consistent meditation practice and leads to stillness.
We do this with no expectations. Rather, we sit and observe our thoughts and feelings without engaging them, without identifying with them. We have tools that lead us into inner silence, which leads to inner stillness, pure awareness, unconditioned mind.
When you begin to meditate, there are distractions, most of which are created by the bodymind. (In medical schools, they are now using the term bodymind.) The key point is not to identify with the stories that you tell yourself. When you are sitting in silence, the first gift that comes is the awareness of how much time your mind spends planning, hoping, fearing, constructing problems, rehashing old experiences, thinking about what should or shouldn’t happen, so many things. Once you are aware of your mindstream as not being you, you begin to see how transparent and ephemeral so much of what goes on in your head is. And you begin to change your relationship with your very noisy mind. How? Just by observing it and hanging in with the discomfort that comes up and letting it go.
When you begin to meditate, you may have moments of stillness. You will also have moments of inner noise. It’s neither good nor bad. It just is. You may see a pattern of self-judgment, self-criticism arising as you meditate. That’s conditioning and we’ve all had plenty of conditioning to judge ourselves. When it arises, label it “judgment” and let it go. Imagine that whatever arises is transparent and don’t solidify it by grasping, aversion, or judgment. We break out of our conditioning by not giving it more strength when it arises.
Meditation is a step from the known into the unknown. It’s being okay with not knowing. It’s paradoxical because when we try to explain the state of meditation, we really can’t. It’s experiential. Just being leads to a fundamental experience of oneness, the realization of unity that lies at the heart of our practice.