“And when he came to the place where the wild things are, they roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws till Max said, ‘Be still’ and tamed them with the magic trick of staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once.”
– Maurice Sendak
If only we could tame the wild beasts of our minds so easily. We race through life leaving the present moment in our wake. Spinning in a whirlwind of thoughts and schedules, we neglect to take inventory of our selves, or enjoy what lies along our path.
In The River, Thich Nhat Hanh describes a river who spent her days chasing clouds. She wanted to possess the clouds, but could never capture one, as clouds are impermanent. One day, a strong wind blew all the clouds from the sky. The river didn’t know what to do with herself and deemed life not worth living, with no clouds to chase. That night, as she cried, and sat with herself, she realized that clouds are made of water. What she was looking for and wanting to possess was already in herself. The next day, she was able to notice the beauty of the blue sky behind the clouds and all of nature that surrounded her as she flowed along. She was finally at peace and happy. “There is nothing to chase after. We can go back to ourselves, enjoy our breathing, our smiling, ourselves, and our beautiful environment.”
Can you relate to the river?
I have been practicing Yoga for 11 years. Yes, Yoga has helped me to gain strength, balance and flexibility, but, most of all, it has taught me how cultivate stillness in my mind. I know now that I previously used physical exercise in times of need – graduate school, college, even high school – to still my mind. As I ran or cycled, I subconsciously focused on the rhythm of my breath integrated with my footsteps or pedal strokes. I would often find myself in a beautiful state of calm and effortlessness that is often referred to as the “zone,” and felt as if I could go on forever. I would return home with a great sense of mental clarity and calm.
In fact, Yoga was originally practiced as a way to open the body and calm the mind in preparation for a seated meditation practice. As I move through a series of poses designed to strengthen and stretch my body, integrating breath with movement, I find myself to be present in the sensations of my body and breath. I finish my practice with a renewed sense of clarity and stillness.
Stillness might be described as fully participating and engaged in your present activity. A still mind isn’t void of thought. Nurturing a still mind involves clearing the chatter, the clutter, the worries, so that we may experience our authentic self and, often, allow insight and creativity to bubble to the surface. A still mind allows us to reflect, to visit our intentions, to cultivate gratitude, and to enjoy the present moment.
When I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer, my ability to tame the wild beasts in my mind was put to the test. In stillness, I was able to accept and soften to my new reality. I couldn’t rush through this one. I walked alongside cancer and found so many gifts and blessings along the way.
We don’t all have to practice Yoga to find stillness. We can enjoy quiet moments without the distraction of the computer or the television. Or notice the path under our feet on our journey through life, the rhythm of the breath, or the clear blue sky. Or, perhaps, even rest after accomplishing something great.
“We can make our minds so like still water that beings gather about us,
that they may see their own images, and so live for a moment with a clearer,
perhaps even a fiercer life,
because of our quiet.”