Originally Published: December 20, 2013 by remingtoncooney |
Sitting here as I write this, I can see fresh clumps of snow falling off the tree outside my window as layers build on its bare branches. The day is already darkening, despite the early hour. This city becomes so silent when the snowfall hits. So still. Everything slows down. Earlier today I also slowed down. I took time out to walk through the forest near my house, now caked with fresh powder. Opening my ears I allowed the sounds of a snowed-in forest to come forward, and there it was: nothing. Nothing except the occasional woosh of snow piles dropping from the top of the tallest pines, ending in a plume of white mist. This is stillness, I thought. Stillness sitting in the wholeness of life. And although the snowfall drew my attention to this apparent stillness, the reality is that snowfall doesn’t bring stillness; stillness is always there, ever-present. Stillness is always sitting within the wholeness of life. But my question lately has been, how do I sit still in the wholeness of life?
Since arriving back to Vancouver, after my Summer in Japan, this has been a very interesting time for me. Having finished my degree and now surveying options for my future, it is perhaps the most unknown period I’ve experienced yet. I think it’s this period that every Arts graduate fears most – the “Arts-istential crisis.” And I can now understand the apprehension. Since being back, I have definitely experienced some deep bouts of anxiousness as I wonder what really is next on my path. What does the future hold for me? What role do I step into next? Is it a new course? A new job?
Such thinking can act like a pendulum of anxiety – one day it will sit on the anxiousness side, and then all of a sudden it swings to full-blown excitement about the infinite freedom the unknown offers. After all, excitement and anxiety really are two sides of the same coin; it just depends which way you decide to flip it.
But having this period of limbo has been quite a blessing in many ways. I’ve really had to turn around and look at my life deeply, in full view, and in close detail. In response, I’ve had to be still with that – to not run away from what my life looks like at this point in time.
As a result, this period of the “unknown” has provided the perfect opportunity to deepen my spiritual practice and to work with a certain fear of the unknown, that I really haven’t had the space to fully work with yet. I’m learning how to convert this feeling of fear into one of excitement, as I step into the next phase of my path – one step at a time. And it hasn’t been easy. There have been plenty of moments where I’ve caught myself in incessant worry, fretting that my earlier life choices might now leave me stranded in some abyss of limited opportunity. That maybe pursuing passions as a career path is as foolish as cynics say it is.
But having more time on my hands during this period has allowed me to broaden my studies of East Asian wisdom. Using yogic and Buddhist teachings, I’ve been able to work with difficult emotions in a spacial way, knowing I have no place to run to, no set future to hide behind. I’ve also been fortunate to have the time and space to further my zen and yoga training, commiting more to my sangha, particpating in more retreats, and coming into contact with more teachers.
In other words, this limbo period has offered me an opportunity to sit still in the wholeness of life. Of course, no matter who you are or what you do, the opportunity to sit still in the wholeness of life is always there for you at any given moment. Personally, in the past it was difficult for me to sit still within my own spiritual practice because I was always trying to gain something from it. But now, I’m simply practicing just to practice. Although I’m trying to maintain an inner stillness, this is not something I can gain through grasping. It comes from letting go of trying to gain something. It’s surrendering to the unknown.
With an unknown future, the goal at the end of practice has diminished. Where is my practice leading me I think? And until an answer is presented, I can only be still. Perhaps there will never be an answer.
During my last retreat, Zen master Hogen Bays told us, no matter where we are in life, no matter what stage we are at, our life is whole and lacking nothing. There’s simply nothing missing in this moment. There are times right now where I really can’t get my head around that, but, if I am still, I can feel the truth of this statement deep in my heart – even if I can’t quite grasp it in my head. My life is whole and lacking nothing.
So I share this for those who might be in a rut in their lives, and, at the same time, for those whose lives are chugging along as seamlessly as ever: take a moment to be still and feel how underneath the layers of mind, at the bottom of our hearts, life feels whole; it is lacking nothing.