This will be my last newsletter for 2010. I’m going to spend a little time beside a lake in the mountains where Finding the Field is set. I’m looking forward to plenty of peace and quiet. Silence.
Not true silence, of course, because even in the still of night, the bush has a thousand conversations.
There are two kinds of true silence. One of them is so rare it’s almost a curiosity. The other is available to anyone, and can transform your health and well-being. I was lucky because for me, the first led to the second.
The first kind is the complete absence of sound. I experienced it half way between New Zealand and Tonga, over the Marianas trench, where it can take 24 hours for a discarded can to reach the bottom. There’s no point in telling the whole story here, but for about an hour my six-year-old son Sam and I were alone, far from the yacht, in a tiny dinghy. The Pacific was asleep, dreaming long, slow dreams; not a breath or breeze, not a ripple in the glassy water, not even a whale cry from the depths. So, for a few minutes Sam and I experienced life utterly devoid of sound.
At first, my mind objected to the silence and filled it in, making me think I could hear my own breathing and the blood moving in my veins, especially around my temples. Then, after a few minutes, it seemed that silence was itself like a sound: a long vibration. Which is how I glimpsed the second kind of silence.
Profound stillness. It’s been known since ancient times—always in us, waiting for us to notice. It’s the stillness that holds all sound, like an ocean holding a dinghy. In fact it holds everything, including us and all our thoughts and adventures. I call it Consciousness, or the Field. Quantum physics calls it the inseparable web of dynamic activity that brings forth all physical objects.
Hard to get your head around it? Imagine that you are watching a rock. Imagine that you zoom your vision down to the surface of the rock; closer and closer until you can see individual atoms vibrating, and even further in until you can see each sub-atomic particle dancing the Wu Li in empty space. And yet when you zoom out again, you see only the stillness of the rock which you now know contains a trillion moving things.
Like the rock, Consciousness moves within itself. When we find the stillness within us, we find Consciousness.
And we find ourselves. That’s the prize. Many claim it through meditation. No one needs to go to sea, climb a mountain or build a sound-proof bunker. It’s right where you are, right now. Once you’re practiced, you can find it in a second even in the middle of Piccadilly Circus. But, of course, beginners need to start looking in a reasonably quiet place.
But there’s a catch. Many of us are instinctively afraid of losing our ego identity if we contact this profound stillness within us. Many are even afraid to sit quietly and alone without distractions. We fear the poverty of loneliness, when it is really the richness of solitude. I know, because I’ve had that fear myself, and the breakthrough for me was discovering the difference between thought and awareness.
Want to try it? Find a quiet room and gentle music. Put something in front of you to engage your visual focus; it hardly matters what—for me it’s a candle.
Now, turn off your thought track—but don’t try too hard. When a thought does come, don’t treat it like a nuisance. Instead treat it like an atom in that rock and ‘zoom’ out of it until you are watching it from a distance. It’s like lucid dreaming, where you dream on one floor of your mind and watch the dream from the next. When you’re watching the thought pass by—I think this is working, or I’m hungry, or I wonder when Jack is going to call me—then you have begun. You are in two ‘places’ at once. Now, no matter what the thought is, just be aware of it; don’t form an opinion about it, don’t judge it, and don’t judge yourself for having it. Keep ‘zooming out’ until you can no longer see the individual thoughts, but are simply aware, until you are extended way out into the universe around you.
Do you see the possibilities? What is it that’s aware that you have a body? Is it your thoughts, your mind? And what is it that’s aware that you have a mind? Is it your spirit? And what is it that’s aware that you have a spirit? What, then, is the real you?
The real you is all of that and more. Body, mind and spirit. We are like the legendary child made of salt, marching through the mountains and the valleys of its life until it reaches the ocean. It dissolves into the water, changing itself and changing the ocean that gave it birth.
The complete you is in the all the layers of the ocean, all the way to the bottom. You can wait until you reach the beach, or, through meditation, you can experience the ocean on the way, travelling the mountains and the valleys with an inner current of joy—yes, even the valleys.
Perhaps I’ll find another layer on this summer break. But perhaps not. I’m in no rush. For your own break, summer or winter, mountain or valley, may you take joy with you.
I’ll be back in a few weeks.