Most people pray for love, joy or happiness. I have prayed for peace. At least for the last decade or so, my aspiration was to abide in peace. As I have often been blessed with intense highs, as per the natural state of duality, I have also experienced the painful lows – of loss or irrevocable change. So at some point, without really having understood all of this, I began to look for equanimity and peace. This aspiration was a little difficult to reconcile with my equally strong inclination to engage fully with life. Nevertheless, serenity is what became my priority.
Amongst the many beautiful books that I read on this journey, was ‘A Still Forest Pool’ by Ajahn Chah. A lovely book with profound insights, the quote that became my quest was: “You will reach a point where the heart tells itself what to do…Try to be mindful, and let things take their natural course. Then your mind will become still in any surroundings, like a clear forest pool. All kinds of wonderful, rare animals will come to drink at the pool, and you will clearly see the nature of all things. You will see many strange and wonderful things come and go, but you will be still.“
“… but you will be still” – The very words evoke such a tangible sense of profound ease with the world! It immediately brought to mind the vivid imagery described therein. I could easily imagine the sunlight ‘shining’ off a clear pond surface, resplendent with brightness.
So I inched forward on my path to this state of stillness. I saw that many others sought a constant high of happiness, and often pictured themselves to be in a ‘shining’ state. Yet, many times this energetic positivity seemed forced, shallow or simply too extreme for me. This is no judgement about others. Its just that this provoked questions in my mind, as to why I was not attracted to this vibration, but felt compelled to become the ‘still waters that run deep’. The question remained unanswered. But somewhere along the way, I began to realize that I was now able to be calm and peaceful much of the time. That I could actually welcome the coming and goings of ‘wonderful, rare animals’, without suffering unduly over the inevitability of change. Gradually, the natural inclination to fully engage with life returned. There is a fresh joy and passion for living fully. But this time, I am concurrently centred in a peaceful awareness that whatever is now – no matter how beautiful or joyful- sooner or later will change form. The happy enthusiasm is hence a very different vibration from the one I described earlier.
Today, I remembered a story that brought all this together for me.
Buddha was travelling with his followers and was thirsty. He sent someone to get him water from the river. The carts had just come through and the waters were all stirred up and muddy. The follower returned empty handed. After a few hours, much to the person’s surprise, Buddha sent him back again. By now, the waters had calmed down and the mud had settled back to the bottom of the river. The water was crystal clear and he could fetch clean drinking water for the Buddha. This story is a metaphorical representation for our churning thoughts and how when one allows them to settle, the stillness of our true nature reveals clarity again.
Suddenly, the metaphor took on an extended interpretation for me. Even when the waters are churned up and muddy below the surface, the sunlight dances off the surface brightly. So a veneer of happiness and joy may be apparent, but the churning remains unaddressed under the waters. When one acknowledges the muddiness and gives it the time and space to settle – the clarity of the waters reaches new depths. Then the sunlight lights up not only the surface, but reaches in far deeper – lighting up new colours and sparkles off the waters with a new grace. The joy and happiness that exudes off these still waters is deeper and more profound.
I now feel that Ajahn Chah was hinting at more than I had understood earlier. The path to calmness does not end in stagnant waters. It liberates a richer sense of joie de vivre than was possible before. Almost as though there is a celebration going on all the time – ‘strange and wonderful things’ are welcomed and loved. Both, when they come – and also when they go.
All the while, the still waters run deep – and sparkle joyfully as well!
(Photo Credit: Dr. Udatta Kher)