Meditation Articles Series
Stillness can be found anywhere
These past three weeks I have been staying in an apartment building in the city’s busiest street. It has been a sharp contrast to my seaside home. It has given me many opportunities to observe my thoughts as I resisted aspects of this environment.
By 6.00pm each afternoon the atmosphere on the street outside becomes hazy as the cars, and especially the buses roar up the hill belching out exhaust fumes as they transport the workers home in peak hour traffic. When I look out of the doors and windows of the apartment all I can see is concrete; huge overhanging concrete beams, and concrete walls to support this tall building. I was residing in an apartment on the ground floor. By nightfall the paving tiles outside the sliding door are littered with cigarette butts, some empty drink cans, a few fallen clothes pegs, a flutter of discarded tissues, and a film of black gritty soot from city pollutants.
Such an environment where I do not experience the greenness of plants or trees is a great time to practise equanimity. Knowing I was to be here for three weeks I could either resist in any moment, or accept and allow what is, in any moment. What happens when I resist? I become unhappy. My thoughts then create more and more stories about what seems like an “alien” place and I experience greater and greater misery. Can I stay present in each moment? Sometimes I can, other times my mind takes over and I am no longer absorbed in present moment awareness but lost in the past, or the future.
I brought a plant inside from the scraggly assortment I found hiding in the shade. Not that it was any sunnier inside but the plant exuded aliveness as its green succulent leaves hugged each other in a jewelled lotus configuration. The plant centred me and I was drawn into its stillness.
As the weeks went by I found myself observing the flow and rhythm of the city more and more. The noise never stops day or night. If I woke in the early hours of the morning I would often hear couples arguing, doors slamming, young ones partying, the smell of cigarette smoke drifting through the open window and the boom, boom of heavy music from a base speaker in someone’s apartment. At first I was unable to sleep with all the noise. Then I thought to myself that this was yet another opportunity to observe without judgment. I let go of resisting the noise. After all noise is just a collection of sounds, and soon I fell back to sleep, feeling an inner peacefulness. Each day I swept up the rubbish that had been thrown from tenants’ balconies. I watched my hands in action as I held the broom and dustpan. I sensed the stillness now behind the actions. Gone was my aversion to cigarette butts and I laughed out loud at my former snobbishness and what I considered to be “beneath my dignity.” As I walked outside along the busy street milling with other pedestrians I noticed the stillness beyond each person I passed.
I have returned home today. I am grateful for the time in the city. I could have gone on a silent retreat where I would have been cocooned from noise, pollution, over crowdedness, and lack of nature. It is easier to find stillness in nature but what I have learned is that stillness is also there in what I once judged as a harsh environment. When the mind drops all its concepts of what should or shouldn’t be and is able to observe, accept and allow just what is, something happens. There is a change within and a knowing that stillness can be found everywhere.