Be Still and Know- What Does it Really Mean?

    Spiritual teachers have given the instruction to reach Samadhi: “be still and know”.  Be still and know the true Self beyond name and form, or be still and know that you are God. What exactly do they mean? 

    How can you be still on a globe spinning 1,000mph around its axis, 67,000mph around the Sun, 500,000mph around the galaxy and millions more miles per hour through the universe? Your heart is beating, cells are moving inside, food digesting, the brain producing brain waves, and your blood is pumping. How can we be still? What is it that becomes still? Obviously no one’s physical body can become absolutely still existing within time-space, because time-space itself is movement. 

    So when we say “be still and know” we must be talking about something else, something beyond time and space, something beyond the physical. What is meant by stillness is something that we have no word for in modern language. “Stillness” is the closest word, but it is inadequate to describe something that is not of this dualistic world. What is actually realized is a sort of primordial consciousness which is beyond stillness and movement, beyond time. It is eternal, the ground of your being that does not come and go, like the unmoving center of a wheel or stillness at the center of a hurricane. When prajna or wisdom of our true nature is realized, it becomes obvious that stillness and movement are a duality created by the mind. Fullness and emptiness are a duality created by the mind. Silence and noise are a duality created by the mind. Everything is already inherent within stillness, or the movement of the world is identical to stillness. The so-called outer world is transcended by realizing stillness, which, when realized includes that which it transcends. The duality of stillness and movement collapses. It is the mystery of your being- an opening of all dimensions into the dimensionless. You come to this center that is everywhere and nowhere by ceasing to respond unconsciously to phenomena that is arising.

 “When there is no more separation between this and that, it is called the still point of the Tao. At the still point in the center of the spiral, one can see the infinite in all things” ~ Chuan-tzu

Don’t search for stillness, but stop reacting to the outer illusion unconsciously, and gradually your mud will settle, as they say in Zen. The illusion is not that the outer world does not exist in an ontological sense (real and unreal are another duality created by the dualistic mind), but the illusion is that there is a separate “self” that is me. Once you realize the awareness that does not come and go you are free to play your character without identification, recognizing that it is only the character that lives and dies, and that life and and death do not touch your true nature. 

  Whenever the limited egoic mind moves it is due to unsatisfactoriness (dukkha); wanting things to be other than what they are. When we make the tendencies of craving and aversion conscious, once they are conscious our identification with them will automatically drop and the pattern will lose energy. 

You can’t force your mind to have no thoughts, because the wanting to have no thoughts is itself a thought. It is like desiring to have no desires. Don’t try to force stillness using the mind. It will be like putting a monkey in a straight jacket; the moment the monkey is let loose again it will go crazy.  If you are just suppressing your thoughts, it is called being Dharma-ridden; it is holding the monkey mind so it can’t move. Meditation is not suppressing thinking, but recognizing what is beyond thinking.

Don’t try to suppress your thoughts. Allow them to come and go without getting hooked by them.

    In brain science the default mode network is the area of the brain that is functioning when the brain is in a resting state. It is the background chatter or daydreaming mind of the typical human being. In the yogic traditions, this is called vikshepa; distraction or mental wandering.  Vikshepa must cease for Samadhi to arise. Recent studies in brain research using the FMRI have shown that in advanced meditators the default mode network is quieter. We cannot say that all advanced meditators no longer experience a constant thinking narrative in the head, but they generally experience much less of it. 

  The terms “nirvana” or “nirodha” (Buddhism), “nirvikalpa” or “asamprajnata” samadhi (the Vedic or yogic systems), “moksha” (Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism), “hesychasm” (monastic or mystical Christianity), Fana (Sufism) and Kensho (Zen) all refer to a cessation of the automonous fluctuations of the limited mind which bring about identification. Patanjali said Samadhi is “Chitta Vritti Nirodha”- a cessation of the entanglement of awareness with the fluctuating whirlpool of mind. Cessation does not mean that you become brain dead or anything of the sort; the mind simply stops producing thoughts that interrupt your presence (the vrittis or kleshas are no longer produced). In day to day life the mind still works, and your memory, your reason, higher intellect, and the ego structure all continue to work. The mind is waiting to be used like a faithful servant. Just as the eyes see, ears hear, and all nervous system functions continue as normal, the mind continues to work, but we do not identify a sense of self with it. The limited self is nothing but unconscious preferences for something other than what is arising in the present moment. If mind is unlimited by egoic identification then it is inseparable from the great reality, the one mind apart from which nothing else exists.

    The primordial stillness is realized when the identification with the robotic self structure ceases and awareness as the ground of existence wakes up to itself. When identification ceases then eventually robotic activity ceases as the old patterns lose energy.  Like a fan that has been unplugged it takes time to wind down, and we must continue to be vigilant that we do not turn it back on by engaging in the old patterns until new energy patheways are completed. When energy is freed from the old patterns new energetic structures are grown (the tree of life or inner lotus), and eventually effort is not needed. Energy will naturally flow in the path of least resistance, like water naturally following the contour of a carved river bed. When energy flows from the root to the crown then one becomes a living bridge between the world of change and the unchanging ground of all being. This is what the spiritual masters have called sahaja samadhi, or a living samadhi integrated into and not separate from all human activity. It is possible to simultaneously “be still and know” and to “be in motion and know”, recognizing that it is only the limited mind that creates the duality between stillness and movement. This stateless state or open state is what Krishnamurti called “choiceless awareness”. Find out how to be present without thinking, without choosing, without preference, and without discrimination. I can’t tell you how, because if I give you any technique you will be paying attention to the technique rather than to what is actually arising in this moment. It is simply being attentive to, and equanimous with what is.