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“The Breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. Don’t go back to sleep.”
Spiritual awakening starts with a change in experience. The transformation involves a shift of Awareness from the incessant flow of thoughts in our head to an awareness of Reality. We move from a self-absorbed relationship with our minds to a direct, open relationship with the Now, or present moment.
Spiritual growth and vitality start with the practice of stillness. In stillness, the busy mind can quiet. The thought clouds can clear away, revealing the stars of awareness. Practices that still the mind include meditation, yoga, and contemplation, including contemplative prayer.
Meditation, while it may sound complex, is really a very simple practice, though it is as difficult as it is simple. When we meditate, we sit still and alert, and simply pay attention to what is going on right now, in this present moment. We consciously, gently, and persistently pull Awareness out of its immersion in thought so that Awareness can experience the Now.
A very common meditative technique is to initially concentrate on just one aspect of this moment, such as the sensation of our breath going in and out of our nostrils and into our lungs. Concentrating on just one aspect of the Now, such as our breath, is called concentrative meditation. As our busy minds repeatedly hijack Awareness back to thoughts, we gently and persistently break away from thought, turning Awareness back to the breath, or some other aspect of the Now, such as sights, sounds, smells, tastes, or physical sensations. Some meditators practice systematically rotating their attention from seeing, to hearing, to smelling, to tasting, and to feeling.
In more advanced states, we develop the ability to also experience our thoughts without becoming lost in them. When we open the focus of Awareness to all of our experiences, we move from concentrative meditation to what is called “mindfulness meditation,” in which we are “mindful” of all aspects of our experience, including of our thoughts.
Benefits from meditation and other stillness practices come from regular, consistent practice over a lifetime. Such a practice actually changes the brain, just physical exercise changes the body. It is often best to start with 10’ twice a day, when we first get up and before we go to sleep. There is a saying that if we are too busy, we should then double the time. There is wisdom in this, for busyness is a sign that we need to slow down, as it is harmful to our well-being. There is even a Chinese translation of “busyness” as “heart-killing.” If we are too busy to take time every day for stillness, then we are simply too busy. While it is good to be active, we need to maintain a balance between doing and being. Everything in moderation. Making time for a daily spiritual practice is essential, like eating, sleeping, and bathing. Our efforts need to be gentle, persistent, and disciplined to experience positive results. In this way, we begin to make silence and stillness a regular part of our daily routine.
When we still our minds, we make direct contact with Reality, part of which includes the reality of the Heart. We open both to the outside and the inside. Looking inside, we awaken to the Truth of the heart and experience the important essence of life—love, beauty, the Sacred. Through our hearts, we experience who we truly are in all our uniqueness. It is in the “silent chambers of the soul” that we resolve life’s dilemmas. In stillness, as part of our recovery, we recover from a broken sense of self. In stillness, we recover wholeness, our true nature. We realize we already are what we were looking for all along through our addictions.
Spiritual practices vary greatly, but share the common theme of taking us out of our mind and putting us into oneness. While the destination is the same, the paths are many. As Symmachus once said, “Everyone has his custom, his religion. One cannot reach so great a secret by one way alone.” The important point is that we do something to enter stillness every day, as many times as we can.
Dedicating ourselves to a spiritual practice is a profound act of self-love. We give ourselves the gifts of clarity, wholeness, and freedom. By breaking free of our thinking minds, we can reflect on the negative, self-defeating thoughts that arise, let them go, and create a space within ourselves for more positive, realistic thoughts to arise. Thus, for example, the thought, “I am a failure” dissolves into “I am succeeding in this moment.” In stillness, positivity replaces negativity as we experience the abundance of the Present.
Each of us moves in and out of spiritual awareness from moment to moment, and day to day. If the sacred suddenly seems far from us, we need to notice who moved and return to the Present. It is in our continuously returning to the Now that we develop and maintain our spirituality.
Maintenance of our spiritual fitness through spiritual practice is the key to recovery, as our spirituality is our first defense against relapsing. For many, their abstinence is contingent upon their spiritual condition. A rich inner life means we need less from the outside, including addictions, to feel complete.
In stillness, we listen. When we listen, Life speaks to us. We hear what Life has to say. To reap the benefits of stillness, we then need to get up from our cushions or chairs and put what we have heard into practice. When we act in accordance with what we hear, then Life works for us.