Still the lake of your mind

All the major religions of the world agree on the need for inner stillness if we want to heighten our awareness of reality.

Usually our mind is so preoccupied by thoughts and emotions that we cannot pay attention to the wider perspective of reality, to the things that really matter. The Hindu scriptures call the turmoil in us the samudra samsara: the ocean of anxiety. It is as if desires and emotions rage in us like a storm, churning high waves and throwing up a spray of froth. To become truly aware of ourselves and of reality around us we need to calm the turmoil.

We have to still the storm within us.

"A heavy squall arose and the waves beat against the boat till it was all but swamped. Now Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a mattress.

The disciples woke him up and said: `Master, we are sinking! Don't you care?'

He stood up, shouted at the wind and to the sea he said: `Hush! Be still!' The wind dropped and there was a dead calm." (see: Mark 4,37- 39.).

We have to turn our mind into a lake that is so still that it can reflect reality like a mirror.

Still water is like glass.
Look in it and you will see the bristles on your chin.
It is a perfect level that carpenters can use.
If water is so clear, so level,
how much more should be the human mind?
The heart of a wise person is tranquil.
It is the mirror of heaven and earth
reflecting everything.
Emptiness, stillness, tranquility,
reserve, silence, non-action:
these mirror heaven and earth.
This is perfect Tao.
Wise people find here their point of rest.

See: CHUANG TZU, 13,1; see B.WATSON, The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu, New York 1968. Non-action does not mean total inactivity here. It means remaining interiorly detached, not getting embroiled in one's actions.

To achieve such inner stillness, go to some quiet place and sit down in a comfortable position. Close your eyes and begin a process of gradual withdrawal. At first you are aware of the external sounds you can hear and of the environment in which you find yourself. Take note of it, then let it go. After a while you become aware of the inner turmoil in yourself: the memories you carry in your mind, the feelings that accompanied your actions. Try to detach yourself from them. Let them go.

Do not feel under pressure. Do not suppress anything with violence. Acknowledge it all. Let it be there. Just gradually pull away from it so that you feel a new tranquility and peace take hold of you.

Some people find it useful to pay attention to their breathing. It helps them withdraw interiorly. Others lie down during the exercise, which is fine as long as you guard against falling asleep. We are not looking for drowsiness, but a heightened level of awareness.

Begin in a quiet and secluded place. Once you have learnt the practice of inner withdrawal and mental composure, you can achieve the same effect even when surrounded by people or subjected to external noise. You can experience such inner withdrawal when travelling by bus or by train, for instance; provided people sitting next to you are not engaged in a distracting conversation.

Inner withdrawal is not an aim in itself. It only represents a first stage. It creates a wider openness, a keener perception, increased attention, intensified awareness, a state of mind in which we can reach out beyond ourselves and experience things in a new way.

Even this first step has its own reward. The inner peace we can acquire will be a treasured possession we would not gladly give up. Gradually it will make us aware of the Ultimate Reality that underlies everything, yes, that lies even at the basis of our own search.

The method described in this chapter is worked out more fully in a book and video The Seven Circles of Prayer by J.WIJNGAARDS, London 1987, available from HOUSETOP, 39 Homer Street, London W1H 1HL, UK.

Next? Go to:

Think aloud in the presence of God

How to stay in touch with God
Still the lake of your mind Think aloud in God's presence Talk to God by talking to friends Join a community of believers Make selfless love your highest priority Feel God's presence in all the love you meet


The text in this lesson is from How to Make Sense of God by John Wijngaards, Sheed & Ward, Kansas City 1995. Tom Adcock designed the cartoons. The Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada awarded the book a prize on 25 May 1996.

The video clips are from Journey to the Centre of Love (scriptwriter & executive producer John Wijngaards) which was awarded the GRAND PRIX by the Tenth International Catholic Film Festival held in Warsaw (18-23 May 1995). It also received the prestigious Chris Award at the International Film Festival, Columbus Ohio, in 1997.