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Continua of Practice: From Noise to Stillness

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Teacher: Rodney Smith
Date: 2016-06-21
Venue: Seattle Insight Meditation Center



For most of us, our self-image is our most treasured possession. We carefully cultivate, mold, and protect it so it says just what we want it to say about us. We usually look past our blindspots so our image holds mostly our projected ideals, and we will do whatever it takes to defend it as if this image were our final stand upon sanity. What is interesting about our image is how many people see through it. In fact others usually have a better sense of our personality and temperament than our own assessment. That is why feedback is so difficult. We sense others may be seeing the truth of our personality while we fight to keep it hidden.

When we look a little closer, we will see that our image is maintained through presentation. Some of that display is our actions, but most of it is the noise we make through our self-proclamations. Whether the noise is internally induced through our narrative and storyline or externally created through power, drama, outrage, morality, righteousness, or just simple narcissism, makes little difference. The bottom line is that noise keeps our image alive and energetic and keeps us looking away from the more valid experience of ourselves contained in the quiet. As our spiritual path unfolds, we sense that our carefully cultivated image may be a smokescreen that keeps us from a deeper level of self-understanding. As the quiet of our meditation is nurtured, we fall into periods of stillness and the ease that accompanies it. We begin to suspect that the noise is not the final answer to our self-discovery. A question may arise around what the commotion of our lives is all about and how this endless noise making translates into a life of ease.

When we make noise, we are not listening. Even the noise of our thoughts disrupts the communion of connection, and it is only through listening that our perceptions change and insights occur. A good question to ask ourseleves from time to time is, “Am I listening or waiting to speak?” The ground of our spiritual growth is the quiet in our lives, and we can only see as clearly as we live that quiet. As we quiet, our image becomes less important, slips into the background, and is never really missed. The image becomes more translucent and amorphous, coming and going as our opinions rise and fall. We see it as an appendage left over from evolution, with less and less viability in this era. As silence and listening rise to the surface, we realize that “just being” is the reward. Not being something – just being alive is all we need. Aliveness has been there all along the way, but we were too busy proclaiming how important we are to recognize its worth. Now we begin to rest and be nurtured in the arms of stillness.


The point of working with the noise of the mind is to determine how much of it is really needed. Offer yourself a “noise inventory,” where you directly look at how much of your inward chatter has a legitimate usefulness and purpose. Without trying to get rid of it just see whether it has any importance. How much of it is based on issues forced by your pain body (Does she like me? I will be alone the rest of my life.); how much on projection (He is just like my father. You make me angry.); How much is just entertainment (Do you remember last year’s vacation? Let me tell you about the book I am reading.); How much is just nonsense and idle chatter? How much is needless worry and planning? Does thought tell you anything new or only what you already know? What does this chatter offer you, what are its benefits, and why do you keep it going?


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