MettaBlog 1: The Joy of Quiet

Hi Friends,

Welcome to my new website devoted to all things connected to awareness.  I wrote this post in 2012 on the connection between our ideas about the world around us, our senses and how we inhabit our world through our habits. Meditation offers us the opportunity to see our habits and through clear recognition, choosing how to move forward with them. At the core of meditation and yoga are the artful practices of giving all phenomena space, interest and time to understand their conditioning (what brought them to be in this particular pattern). I am offering the following practices to help you learn how to pause when thought patterns arise and how you can met them with understanding.

“In the last meditation in December, the Tuesday Evening Meditation Group dove into the third and fourth elements of the eightfold path, Right Speech and Right Action.  We took time to discuss what these elements are.  We explored the guidelines of behaviour set out by the Buddha.  After a few exercises, we realized that when paying attention to our speech and actions, they reveal pre-existing ideas an biases to everything we experience. These assumptions are connected to past experiences and belief systems (ideas) about ourselves and others. How do we enter our internal matrix of ideas and assumptions with space enough to see them?

If we take meditation off the meditation cushion into our daily activities, we start to see every action we do has an assumption or intention behind it. Basically, how I greet someone tells me what I assume about them.  Or how I walk in a forest or down a street, reveals to me what I already think and expect from that environment.

So when I soften, listen, quiet my attention to the breath, walk with intention to opening sense or speak with care, I am letting go of my assumptions about the present moment and learning to engage with what is happening with less bias, or hopefully no bias at all. I am directly seeing.  I am fully listening. This is meditation in speech and action.  This is taking the attentive awareness we nurture on the meditation cushion and transferring it into our daily lives.

In our age of information overload, taking time to be quiet is essential so we can manage all the stimulus flowing around and at us.  When we choose to break from constant stimulus, we are consciously choosing how to engage with our senses. And we are choosing to disengage from other stimulus for mental well-being.  This is right action for one’s mental well-being.

An article by Pico Iyer captures this modern day conundrum we all live in.  It is called The Joy of Quiet.  Below are some excerpts from it.

Section from The Joy of Quiet by Pico Iyer (New York Times Article on Dec. 29, 2011)
We have more and more ways to communicate, as Thoreau noted, but less and less to say. Partly because we’re so busy communicating. And — as he might also have said — we’re rushing to meet so many deadlines that we hardly register that what we need most are lifelines.
 
So what to do? The central paradox of the machines that have made our lives so much brighter, quicker, longer and healthier is that they cannot teach us how to make the best use of them; the information revolution came without an instruction manual. All the data in the world cannot teach us how to sift through data; images don’t show us how to process images. The only way to do justice to our onscreen lives is by summoning exactly the emotional and moral clarity that can’t be found on any screen.
 
MAYBE that’s why more and more people I know, even if they have no religious commitment, seem to be turning to yoga, or meditation, or tai chi; these aren’t New Age fads so much as ways to connect with what could be called the wisdom of old age. Two journalist friends of mine observe an “Internet sabbath” every week, turning off their online connections from Friday night to Monday morning, so as to try to revive those ancient customs known as family meals and conversation. Finding myself at breakfast with a group of lawyers in Oxford four months ago, I noticed that all their talk was of sailing — or riding or bridge: anything that would allow them to get out of radio contact for a few hours.
 
Other friends try to go on long walks every Sunday, or to “forget” their cellphones at home. A series of tests in recent years has shown, Mr. Carr points out, that after spending time in quiet rural settings, subjects “exhibit greater attentiveness, stronger memory and generally improved cognition. Their brains become both calmer and sharper.” More than that, empathy, as well as deep thought, depends (as neuroscientists like Antonio Damasio have found) on neural processes that are “inherently slow.” The very ones our high-speed lives have little time for.
 
In my own case, I turn to eccentric and often extreme measures to try to keep my sanity and ensure that I have time to do nothing at all (which is the only time when I can see what I should be doing the rest of the time). I’ve yet to use a cellphone and I’ve never Tweeted or entered Facebook. I try not to go online till my day’s writing is finished, and I moved from Manhattan to rural Japan in part so I could more easily survive for long stretches entirely on foot, and every trip to the movies would be an event.
 
None of this is a matter of principle or asceticism; it’s just pure selfishness. Nothing makes me feel better — calmer, clearer and happier — than being in one place, absorbed in a book, a conversation, a piece of music. It’s actually something deeper than mere happiness: it’s joy, which the monk David Steindl-Rast describes as “that kind of happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens.”

This article describes beautifully the essence of willfull renouncement of entertainment and information overload to cultivate living with more sensitivity and awareness.

So take time this week to carve out time each day to be without your phone or computer. Simply meet the present moment through the senses of your body.  Sit quietly with your breath and feel it.  Sit quietly with hearing and hear each particular sound in your home. Sit quietly feeling your body and open to the myriad of senses that arise and pass away.  Vow to sit or walk quietly each day for 10 – 15 minutes at the same time each day as an experiment in cultivating “that kind of happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens.”

Be Well and Be Metta,

Allison Ulan

By | 2017-11-08T14:44:21+00:00 October 31st, 2017|Uncategorized|2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Jane Wednesday November 8th, 2017 at 04:30 AM - Reply

    Hey Allison,
    I come to your classes occasionally but since I’m moving to a new city soon I won’t be able to come anymore. I realized how much I value your teaching. Your level 1 and meditation classes simply relax me so I function better in life. So I’m happy that I can follow your blog.
    Thanks for this post. I like that Iyer attributes his lifestyle choices to selfishness. Why are we taught to think of selfishness as a bad thing? Maybe it’s a semantics thing. But sometimes I’m even a little suspect of so-called selfless people…haha
    Looking forward to reading more.
    Jane

  2. Allison Ulan Tuesday December 5th, 2017 at 08:25 PM - Reply

    Hi Jane, Thanks for writing. So glad to hear my classes have been beneficial to you while in Montreal. Yes, keep checking in at the metta blog. It is here as an on-line resource so you are never far from the teachings.
    Yes Pico’s insights into “selfishness” is understanding we need to take care of ourselves so we can be centered for others when they need us.
    Metta Out to you,
    Allison

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