“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 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.
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?
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.