Sam’s Outlook
Editor Albany UU | Nov 25, 2020

Find a Stillness

Find a stillness, hold a stillness, let the stillness carry me.
Find the silence, hold the silence, let the silence carry me.
Seek the essence, hold the essence, let the essence carry me.
Let me flower, help me flower, watch me flower, carry me.
In the spirit, by the spirit, with the spirit giving power,
I will find true harmony.
                                Hymn #352, Singing the Living Tradition
                                Words by Carl G. Seaburg

The Rev. Kimberley Debus writes:

I love the haunting, minor key of the tune as well as the phrasing … [and] the three-part invitation in the lyrics; especially that first one, to find, hold, and then let the stillness carry me. It’s a prescription for prayer and meditation. Find it, hold it, and let it do its work in us.

I share Rev. Debus’ appreciation of the beauty of this hymn too.  It’s one of my favorites.  It speaks deeply about the process of growth and development.  It also corrects misconceptions about how that process works.

One of the most challenging aspects of spiritual practice is the uncooperative nature of the mind applied to the task.  The meditator sits down in a comfortable and erect position, balanced between leaning forward and back and side to side.  The head is balanced on C1, the cervical atlas, hovering over the shoulders.  The shoulders are balanced over the pelvis.  The back, appropriately curved, relaxed, supple, and still, floats on spinal disks.  Hands rest in the lap with thumbs ever so gently touching.

The body may find some stillness, but the mind resists staying on the breath.  A sound jerks the attention away – “What was that?  Oops, I’m not on the breath.  Darn. Back I go …  Why is my elbow itching?  Should I scratch it?  Oh my gosh, I already did scratch it!  Do I scratch again – is that permitted?  I’m terrible at this.  …  I’m getting a little thirsty.  How much time has gone by?  How much longer do I have to do this?”  And on, and on, and on.

With a little practice and persistence though, it gets a little easier until the meditator stumbles upon the experience of stillness, almost by accident.  Of course, the excitement about finding a moment of stillness completely wrecks the stillness.  But now the meditator knows what to look for and maybe what worked to get there.  The next step is to learn how to hold the stillness, stay with it.  That does take more practice and persistence.  But after finding and losing a stillness many times, it gets easier to both find and hold a stillness.  In meditation lingo, this is deepening one’s ability to concentrate the mind in a one-pointed way.

These first two steps require effort to calm the mind.  There is great benefit to that effort as it brings calm and peacefulness which are very pleasant and restorative.  Deep states of meditative absorption are blissfully enjoyable, often with very pleasant bodily sensations.  Stillness leads to silence, the lack of sensory stimulation.  In stillness, in silence, in the state of deep concentration, the meditator may not notice outer stimulation as their mind becomes one-pointed.

“Let the stillness carry me” and “let the silence carry me” requires a letting go of control.  One is present in the stillness without an effort to direct it or change it.  This isn’t a static experience of being frozen in stillness.  This is a sense of being carried – as if a river flowing deep below rises up and carries the meditator.  There isn’t a destination so much as a sense of movement, a sense of unfolding, a sense of release.  The meditator is acted upon, sort of “being meditated,” being carried through the process of awakening.  It isn’t an act of will, it is the release of will into what is beyond the limited egoic self.  And being in that flow is profoundly meaningful and liberating.

Through finding and holding stillness and silence, what opens up is the essence of who we are.  Not as an intellectual concept or an abstraction but a direct personal experience.  Finding the stillness and holding the stillness, finding the silence and holding the silence, the essence is present to be known.  Not known in a way to be used, controlled or modified.  Known in a way that can carry us.  And when we do so, our bud breaks open and our spirit begins to flower.

Again, not by our willpower does this happen.  In the spirit, by the spirit, with the spirit giving power is how it happens.

The result?  Finding true harmony.

                                                                                                Rev. Sam