How does one get to the stillness at will? This question often teases us in our spiritual journey.
Sometimes you have a deep meditation experience, and for a brief while, there is the experience of stillness and oblivion as to the passage of time. The moment you rise from the meditation seat, however, the world rushes in, clamoring for attention, as though it has sorely missed you for your brief interlude with the Divine and the meditative experience of calm and stillness quickly becomes just a memory tinged with wistfulness.
I recently went through a medical issue that required hospitalization, and there were long spells of time when I had to be alone. There was no one else around, which meant that no interaction with any other person was necessary and there were no distractions if I wanted to go into deep stillness. It was the perfect setting for some serious meditation – a retreat in the hospital.
Charged with enthusiasm, I started to build up my internal spiritual atmosphere, tuning in to the vibration of our Masters through reading and music. By the third day, I was feeling withdrawn from the usual distractions of life, and was naturally calm and meditative, but I could not get to stillness in meditation. When I sat to meditate, the mind would wander, unwilling to be submerged in silence. My efforts to meditate deeply, as we had been taught, met with hardly any success, and at the end of a half-hearted struggle, I would give up.
One day, after one of these disheartening episodes, as I looked idly out of the wide glass window of the hospital room, I became aware of a silk cotton tree outside, aflame with vibrant red flowers, contrasting strongly with the drab hospital blocks with their huge, never ending network of shabby pipes carrying water, oxygen, sullage, and other things.
As I gazed at the tree, amazed at the beauty of this creation of God, a flock of birds arose from nowhere into the blue sky, and began flying in circles. I saw squirrels running through the
branches of the tree, and birds that pecked at something or the other, or played among themselves, perched on the same tree.
Watching the distant sky in silence, I was filled with a great sense of calm and stillness stealing into my heart. God as the Invisible Beloved Father, who looks after all of us, suddenly felt very close.
The calmness that entered me lasted a long time. Certainly it was not due to any conscious effort of mine, although I had indeed been longing deeply for such an experience.
Filled with gratitude for the pure grace and love that had come to me in that quiet moment as I admired the harmonies of nature, I remembered the reply Paramhansa Yogananda had given to a disciple. This disciple had asked him why he was unable to feel the Divine and whether he wasn’t trying hard enough, and Paramhansa ji had answered, “No, you are trying too hard”.
So how do we get to stillness?
We don’t always get to it by effort alone. As one of Swamiji’s songs goes, “….even when there’s no reply, never let your longing die, and call to Him, keep calling Him.” Stillness comes to us through love and grace, as a gift, drawn by the longing of our hearts.