In my last two columns, I presented two of the eight practices of awakening that Buddha taught on his deathbed: the first is, “Have few desires.” The second is “Know how much is enough.” The third awakening is to enjoy serenity. This is to be away from the crowds and stay alone in a quiet place. It is called “enjoying serenity in seclusion.”
The Buddha said, “Monks, if you want to have the joy of serenity, you should stay away from crowds and spend time in a quiet place. If you are attached to noise and busyness you bind yourself to worldly matters like an old elephant that is stuck in a swamp and cannot get out of it. This practice is called enjoying serenity in seclusion.” He added that by temporarily leaving behind your relations as well as others, and retreating into a quiet place, you can abandon all distractions to your spiritual development and enter a highly enjoyable and serene state.
Now, this is a difficult undertaking in today’s world. Even during our meditation retreats at the Creston Zendo, trucks and motorcycles belch noise; the voices of children from ARES playground penetrate the meditative stillness, and the barking of the neighbours’ dogs disturb the silence. I once read an article about a man who searched the planet for a place where he could not hear the noise of machinery. Finally, he thought he had found such a place in the heart of the old growth fir on the Olympic Peninsula. He was settling down to enjoy the silence when two jets roared overhead. There are few places, if any, where we can enjoy true silence.
On the surface Buddha talks about seclusion and keeping away from crowds. Looking deeper, however, we find it’s through attachment to our life style and being bound by busyness that we hinder our enjoyment of serenity. The truth is that even in the middle of a busy day we can follow Buddha’s suggestion and find the quiet place that exists within each of us. We don’t have to lock ourselves into an isolation chamber to find inner stillness. We can take a few minutes to go for a walk, or sit silently on a bench. Inner stillness is available anywhere, anytime. It only takes twelve minutes of silent sitting for the brain to enter an alpha state. This way, you can find that quiet place and enjoy serenity in the middle of a busy life.
Or, better still, you can step out of your life for a few days and attend a silent meditation retreat that teaches you to still the busyness of your mind. There is a quiet secluded place inside you. When you learn to enter this place, regardless of what happens, you will abide in serenity.
Suggested Practice: In the next two weeks create some time in each day to sit quietly by yourself. Enjoy the serenity of temporarily leaving behind all the concerns of your daily life.