Silent Night

by: EJ on 12/07/2017

How many of you long for peacefulness this holiday?  Can you see yourself quietly relaxing amid candles with music softly playing in background - feeling at peace with the world and a sense of oneness?  Or walking under starlight skies while frost crackles in the tree branches?

For many, this holiday vision is constantly elusive - replaced instead with feelings of being harried, stressed and anxious as we rush from one activity to the next - blindly blundering through the holiday only to come up for breath at the end tired, exhausted and feeling somehow cheated. Sara's candid thoughts in her blog, "Giving Gifts that Make a Difference", share a bit of what holidays can be like for many people.

Peter Kalmus, author of Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution offers insight into why this might be and a possible solution in both his book and in the upcoming DVD by the same name.

Stillness and Silence
Let’s take a moment to consider stillness. People in our society are always running, anxiously putting out fires in their lives. They keep running, mentally if not physically, right up to their last breath. But without stillness, it’s impossible to know who we are and what we want out of life. If we don’t know these things, we’re just running pointlessly.

Since we’re always running like this, when we do get an opportunity to sit in stillness, it’s disconcerting. We want to get up and start running again. The stillness can be frightening to us, because when we’re still, we may come face-to-face with our suffering. Being still, at first, is like riding a bucking bronco. But to come out of the suffering, we need to face it; and to face it, we need to be still. Stillness takes courage.

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Our constant running is tied, bidirectionally, to our fossil fuel addiction: fossil fuel makes us run ever faster, and our running makes us love fossil fuel. We run noisily. We surround ourselves with television, even in public places. We put earbuds in our ears. The sound of cars and freeways is everywhere. In our houses, even when we think it’s quiet, the refrigerator will switch on.

I long for quiet places, but they’ve become difficult to find. I’ll put on a backpack and walk in the backcountry for days, only to hear a nearly continuous roar of airplanes overhead. I seek out quiet, because to me it’s as beautiful as the night sky in the darkest mountain wilderness. This beauty is part of the vision I hold for a world without fossil fuels.

The Practice
There are many ways to meditate. Here, I’ll explain the simple and concrete technique that I practice, but this is not a meditation lesson. It’s merely a description. I know that I couldn’t have established my practice at home from a written description.


If you want to learn, it’s best to go to a meditation center. Although the practice is simple, the mind is a slippery fish. It will strongly resist your attempts to change its deepest habit. The mind will think of surprisingly creative and persuasive excuses to stop sitting and get up. To learn meditation, you need a firm commitment, a quiet place free from responsibilities, a sustained, single-minded persistence over at least ten days, and a teacher who can answer any questions that come up.

Experiencing change
You can always follow your breath. Observe the flow of air through your nostrils with each inhale and exhale. Notice the slight tickle on your upper lip, the warm or cool flow of the air. Witness these subtle sensations as you breathe naturally. As long as you’re living, your breath will be there for you—in any situation. Working to follow the breath, for longer and longer periods, sharpens the mind and prepares it for the core practice of meditation.

This core practice is an extension of the breath awareness: to observe the normal, everyday sensations throughout the body (pain, moisture, heat, tingling, etc.) without reacting to them. The goal is to observe and do nothing —to break the habit of reaction.

In life unwanted things happen and wanted things don’t happen. We can’t control this. But we can learn to dampen our reaction. Toddlers, and even most adults, immediately react with a tantrum. They suffer immensely and cause everyone else to suffer as well. A meditator, though, will smile calmly—because this too shall pass—and then, with a clear mind, get on with the work of making a better world.

Being quietly aware of the sensations on my body, I see that they come and go on their own. They’re constantly changing. Experiencing this impermanence, I develop equanimity. What’s the point of being attached to this or that sensation, when sensations are impermanent? Why multiply my suffering through such meaningless attachment? Direct, sustained experience of impermanence gradually breaks the habit.

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As best I can, I remain alertly aware as I patiently scan up and down, from the top of my head to the tips of my toes and back, examining every area of my body as I pass it. Suppose that in this moment, my attention is on my right shoulder. I quietly observe whatever sensation my right shoulder is experiencing. It doesn’t matter whether it’s pleasant, painful, or neutral. It always arises, and then passes away—impermanent. Then I move to my right upper arm, and repeat. Then to my right elbow, and so on, covering the entire body systematically. If my mind wanders away from this exercise, which it often does, I bring it back without disappointment or frustration. This, too, is part of the practice.

Every sensation is a tool for coming out of the habit of blind reaction. Observing pleasant sensations without reacting dissolves negativities associated with greed. Observing painful sensations without reacting dissolves negativities associated with hatred. And observing neutral sensations without reacting dissolves negativities associated with boredom.

By directly observing bodily sensations, I experience that they are impersonal, and that attachment to them (projecting “me” into them) causes suffering. As I sit still, sensations come and go on their own. By experiencing their changing nature, I experience the changing nature of this mind-body composite I call “me.” Experiencing it, I realize that I’m impermanent. The notion of “I” gradually dissolves.
The ego is like grime on a window. Once the window is washed clean, the underlying reality of connection shines through like the sun.




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