I sit for my meditation and drop myself into it, into what is, and there is chaos. My thoughts and sensations are on riot. That’s what I face when I drop the everyday distractions and look within.
I cringe, I want to draw back. “This doesn’t seem right,” I tell myself, “chaos isn’t supposed to be here.” I had thought meditation is an antidote to chaos, so my habitual reaction is to either run away from it or try to control it, to meditate it away.
My body contracts, and my impulse is to look away, to nervously focus on my breathing or apply some meditation technique that calms or avoids the chaos altogether. But I am curious, curious to do something different today. Perhaps a childlike, risky curiosity. I want to stay and watch, even lean into the chaos and see what’s the worst thing that can happen.
Defense mechanisms kick in: There’s the fear and anxiety in letting go of control and sense of direction; there is the shallow breathing, the hole in the gut feeling, the rush of blood in the face and the electrified skin; I am flooded with unpleasant and confusing thoughts and sensations. There is a shit show and I am in the middle of it. The chaos is blasting in my face, debris hitting me all over, and I am possessed with the idea that something is wrong, that my meditation is going off track, that something needs to be done, the highest of all human obsessions!
And yet I choose to do absolutely nothing. I play dead and let chaos swallow me without reacting to it even a bit. “I am all yours,” I say to it with a smile, “do as you wish,” and I put my head into the dragon’s mouth. And that’s exactly when the miracle happens.
Stillness is found when you stop seeking it
The moment I surrender completely to chaos and fully give myself to it, that moment is when I find myself in profound and sublime stillness that was otherwise obscured from sight by my very efforts to attain it, by my meditation efforts, that is, as long as I viewed meditation as a doing of some sort, thinking that something needs to be done, and worse by me, in order to arrive at stillness.
Where is the chaos then, the chaos that was just here? The chaos hasn’t gone anywhere: what I perceived as chaos a moment ago, I now find to be the fundamental stillness of Being. This stillness was experienced as chaos because, in trying to preserve my identity, I was looking at it as “the other,” as something alien to my nature. The moment I let myself unite with “the other,” with the perceived chaos, I immediately realized my prior oneness with it. I realized that it was all nothing but me: I experienced a nonduality of some kind. Where there is nonduality, there will be sublime peace. When you are one with everything, how can anything hurt you! How can the ocean by damaged by its own monster waves? The waves are the ocean, and the ocean is the waves.
Chaos is not other than stillness; it is not in competition with it. If stillness is the absorption of our sense of identity into the fabric of undifferentiated Being, then chaos is our resistance to this absorption. Stillness is always already there; it is our true nature, and that’s why trying to attain it, whether through meditation or any other means, is a meaningless and unattainable goal to set for oneself. One can only realize what one already is by stopping to be something else. True meditation is about letting the human mask, our presumed identity, drop so that we may see the fundamental, anonymous stillness that we are at our core. It is the nature of identity to seek its own survival, and that’s what is experienced as chaos. Chaos is the result of seeking and doing, and identity survives by motion, by doing. Stillness is in non-doing. Simply pause, and chaos will turn into stillness.
Pause turns chaos into stillness
Another way of understanding more clearly the relationship between the apparent chaos and the fundamental stillness is to consider your experience of watching an action thriller movie in the theater: Whatever happens in the movie, the blast, the car race, the gunfire, etc., all that is like the chaos we experience in ourselves through thoughts and sensations, an unpleasant disturbance that stands out even more when we sit for meditation.
The fundamental stillness that is never affected by the chaos regardless of how intense the chaos gets, is like the screen on which the movie is projected and played. No matter what happens in the movie scenes, it has no influence on the integrity and stillness of the screen itself. An explosion in a scene is and does nothing to the screen. Now, you are that screen, and the apparent chaos within you is simply what’s being played out on it. One can say that the reality of the screen is transcendent to the reality of the scenes in the movie. Adopting this perspective is a useful tool for increasing our acceptance of chaos during a meditation practice.
Stillness is our true nature
This is how transcendent you are to the objects of your fears and anxieties. From this perspective, you won’t struggle so hard trying to get rid of them, and this act of surrender by itself removes the bulk of their energy and control over you. In fact, it was your avoidance of those fears and anxieties that gave them this energy and control over you: In interpreting our difficult sensations, we tell ourselves stories that are often more traumatic than the sensations themselves.
Meditation is a great opportunity to confront the inner chaos and resolve our unhelpful avoidance strategies. It helps us build tolerance toward the things we have deemed intolerable by simply avoiding them. And overtime we will grow courageous enough to put our heads into the dragon’s mouth where our fundamental stillness lies, the reality to which we are the rightful heirs.