It’s an achievement to find stillness in the sanctuary of a meditation practice, and a minor miracle to remain grounded in this state in “waking life.” As someone who is highly sensitive to my surroundings, I’m familiar with the struggle of maintaining inner-stillness when engaging with the world.
But unless choosing a monastic life, we have to engage. So how do we engage with the world whilst remaining untainted by it? How do we transfer the states cultivated in meditation into our daily lives? How do we remain calm in the middle of chaos?
Self-enquiry is an attempt to free ourselves from attachment to external influence; the 101 of many inwardly-focused spiritual traditions. For peace of mind, freedom, and to access our fullest potential, we have to learn how to become less influenced by events in the external world.
This doesn’t mean severing connection to the outer world or numbing our sensory experience, but developing healthy non-attachment to engage whilst remaining grounded within ourselves. Practices such as meditation cultivate finer qualities — compassion, calm, empathy, joy — from within.
Personal freedom is developing a strong connection to these inherent qualities so they become more present and more sustainable, during both meditation and waking life, regardless of whether the events of the external world are “good” or “bad.”
Finding Stillness, Losing Stillness
You might be familiar with this process: you start a meditation practice and notice greater peace of mind during each sitting. But as soon as you stand up and return to the world, this precious state is interrupted. Then the ego lists all the reasons why maintaining this state is impossible: it’s the traffic, the “energy” of other people, an off-the-cuff comment, the weather.
We might feel we’ve done the work by sitting for 20 or 30 minutes. But the real work begins the moment we stand up.
Sadly, meditation isn’t the practice of developing superpowers that allow us to manipulate the world to our liking. Clarity of mind does change the way we influence and perceive reality, but true meditation is applying the skills to the unpredictable world we live in, without attempts to control outcomes or force the world to play along with our personal agenda.
Familiarising Ourselves With Awareness
“Meditation is emptying yourself of all content. When there is no thought moving inside you there is stillness; that stillness is meditation.”Osho
Meditation is a priming of the mind and strengthening of awareness. On a micro level, we learn to detach from thoughts, feelings, sensations — to remain balanced. With space from the chaos of the thinking mind, we rest in the space beyond thought that is inherently still, inherently peaceful. This is pure awareness.
One of the great illusions of reality is that the apparent fixed, external world is any different in the way it impacts the psyche and our wider consciousness. When exploring the nature of the psyche, the mirroring of micro and macro becomes clear. We see that the way the thinking mind responds to external cues is exactly the same as it responds to the realities that surface whilst sitting in meditation.
Those memories or future projections, the noise of the mind that becomes brighter the moment we close our eyes, are mini-rehearsals for when confronted with similar situations in the future.
If you sit to meditate and you’re faced with an internal stimulus that is particularly powerful, you might get frustrated and feel it’s getting in the way of the meditation practice. But this is meditation. And such experiences are excellent ways to develop the ability to detach.
Yes, waking life is more intense and intrusive. And with open eyes, when engaging, talking, surviving, moving, and generally doing, the practice of non-attachment is infinitely harder. But it’s still the same practice. And as this practice matures, so does familiarity with the stillness that permeates all of reality.
The Paradox Of Stillness
There’s a paradox with this practice. The more caught up in external events, the more chaotic the world feels. If swayed by external events like a feather in the wind, if we place our attention on things occurring outside of ourselves and blame them for how we feel, then we are being influenced predominantly by the external.
But what happens when we take full responsibility? What happens when we decide not to be influenced, but to influence? Then things change significantly. It’s not that sensory input stops: we see it, we witness it, but it does not cause great unrest. By practicing the same technique as in meditation, we detach from this sensory chaos and instead rest in pure awareness.
This is what you’ll often see referred to as the “Creator” mindset. It’s liberation in its truest form. At first, it appears fleetingly. But with dedication and practice, the connection becomes stronger and more resilient. Eventually, the stillness exudes from your very core, and predominates external events.
Easier Said Than Done
As a concept, this sounds fairly straightforward. Of course, the lived experience is harder. I’d go as far to say the shift from being influenced by reality to influencing reality is the most difficult task you’ll face. I can’t profess to be at a stage of development where I’m incorruptible, though I’d say the majority of the time I’m able to connect to inner-stillness.
I find this remarkable. When I experienced psychosis, for example, I was extremely paranoid. I could be forcefully knocked off course and ungrounded by the simplest thing: even a glance from someone walking past me in the street. So I know what the extreme opposite, of being hyper-sensitive and easily influenced.
Corruptibility is a big focus of mine at the moment. Rather than become frustrated or annoyed by being taken off balance, it becomes a fun experiment. How can I be in this world, and remain connected to inner-stillness? What environments can I move through, freely? I get knocked each and every day. I see progress. I see the triggers that knock me easily. But it’s all learning.
The Heart Has Its Language Too
There is a potential ego trap with this practice. Doing the self-work required to become incorruptible and to shift away from being easily influenced doesn’t mean becoming unaffected by external events. There’s a big difference between remaining connected to inner-stillness and desensitising from nature.
If you reach a stage where you feel you’ve transcended this reality and feel nothing, it’s not a sign of enlightenment: it’s a sign your ego’s hijacked the concept of “incorruptibility” and you’ve lost connection to your heart. Incorruptibility as a spiritual practice is best defined as the ability to remain true to the inner-self (included states such as calm), even when faced with external pressures.
We are emotional beings, too, and our heart has its own language. Often, the heart guides. Heightened awareness means increased sensitivity to the nuances of life and messages of the heart. You might find you experience deep grief about the state of the world. Or the opposite: a deep sense of joy at the beauty of nature.
This isn’t a sign you’re not spiritual enough. When we don’t mistake ourselves as these emotions by becoming entangled but allow them to be, they’re free to rise and fall organically, to follow their natural life cycle.
I’ve experienced both intense grief and intense joy from a place of stillness. Again, paradoxically, it’s the spaciousness around these experiences that allow them to be fully embodied.
Finding stillness and learning to stay connected to such states isn’t a way to escape life’s hardship. It’s a way of remaining true to the deeper sense of compassion, kindness and love that resides behind all phenomena, all apparent chaos. From this place, you are no longer reacting to life’s events but responding consciously.
This enables you to better engage with the world.