Why "seeking" what you want could be preventing you from finding it.

“When you become aware of silence, immediately there is that state of inner still alertness. You are present. You have stepped out of thousands of years of collective human conditioning.” – Eckhart Tolle

 

Lately I’ve been seeking a bit more silence in my day. As a working mom with a young toddler at home it can feel challenging to find silence while a plastic maraca is being pounded on the wood floor or while changing the diaper of squirmy baby. What I’ve learned, though, is that by seeking silence I usually miss that it’s already there. 

I learned this in a peculiar way while traveling in Japan several years ago. I was in Kyoto with my boyfriend (now husband), Steve, and went to the Ryoan-ji Temple (pictured below). The Ryoan-ji Temple is the picture of Zen – literally - so I figured that finding a “Zen” feeling there would be easy.  

What I didn’t expect is that this Zen garden would also resemble a crowded tourist hell on a hot day. There were groups piling in, people bumping shoulder to shoulder, and little space to sit.

I made my way to the front viewing bench and squeezed in to observe the garden and try to forget about the crowd and the sweat running down my back.

I looked.

I grumbled.

I tried to ignore the noise.

I got more irritated.

I focused in on one rock and then a strange thought came into my head.

Rather than trying to look at the rocks, what if I became one of them?

I looked at the rock and saw stillness. Not a lack of movement but pure stillness. Then I felt a slight shift inside. The rocks looked like divine beings standing peacefully, even joyfully, without movement or care. They are the centerpiece of this garden, I thought, and they don’t mind the noise.

I felt another shift and suddenly the noise of the crowd sounded different. I looked around at the people joining me and noticed an elder man with a giggling young boy, a group of school kids in their uniforms, and a couple sitting closely holding hands.

Stillness.

Before I left the garden I found a place to sit at the back wall, the farthest viewing point from the garden and one of the densest areas. Each time I caught a glimpse of one of the rocks through the crowd I saw the unwavering stillness and felt a quiet relaxation inside me intensify. 

By seeking silence from the garden I believed on some level that my outside world needed to look and act a certain way so that I could feel peace. When it didn’t match my mental picture I felt irritated, even blocked from accessing peace.

How often do we have these types of thoughts every day on large and small levels?

I need _____(fill in the blank)_____ to be ____(fill in the blank)_____  so that I don’t have to feel ____(fill in the blank)_____.

Here’s an example: “I need my child to be well behaved so that I don’t have to feel stressed.”

Here’s another: “I need my sister to be healthy so that I don’t have to feel scared.”

When I recognize myself needing my outside world to be different than it is I usually say to myself, “Hold up. What is going on here?” Sometimes I carry on and don’t change a thing, but usually the recognition is enough to make me look within. I often ask a follow up question, like:  

Can I accept this moment as it is?

or

Can I find stillness in this moment? 

 

The rocks were my teacher that day and mirrored for me what is always there – whether I’m in a noisy tourist crowd, with a crying toddler or sitting with an ill family member – there’s a place where all is well.

It’s there for you too.