Levels of Stillness

Levels of Stillness

There are two levels of stillness. The first level involves learning to relax, become centered, and meditate. The technique involves sitting or lying down and being absolutely still – without reading a book, talking, watching the television, or listening to the radio. It involves deliberately pausing, stopping all physical movement, becoming relaxed, calm, and quiet inside, and just being – consciously being conscious. It’s about being centered and still in the moment you are presently in.

For a few minutes, every form of external activity stops. Then, in that physical quietness, you turn your attention inward and focus on yourself. Focus on what it feels like to be you. Experience you. Immerse your conscious awareness in your own unique feeling-tone, the feeling-tone of the Universe expressing Itself as you. Do this deliberately in order to consciously experience the truth of who you are.


The first level of stillness is about being with yourself in order to know yourself. This is accomplished by being wide awake and aware as you deliberately relax into yourself. The idea is to consciously enter into a state wherein you temporarily suspend everything you think you know about who you are, including anything you have ever been taught, and simply be attentive to what’s going on right there where you are. You practice being quiet, both physically and mentally, as you pay attention to the sensations in your body, the various thoughts in your mind, and your current experience of being conscious and alive. You practice simple body-mind awareness, being conscious of the moment you are now in, and thereby experience with clarity the energy of you. You consciously experience yourself as you actually are. In this way you open yourself to a new, truer, less distorted experience of you and the world.

When you are able to relax and quietly suspend all your firmly held false ideas and limiting beliefs about who and what you are, only what is true will remain. You will then experience your ever-existing truth for yourself. This is like polishing a mirror – removing the grime – and seeing yourself clearly for the very first time. And though this is not as easy as it sounds, it is also not particularly difficult. Let me clarify something first, however. In order to let go of the false beliefs you have about who and what you are, it is not necessary to know which beliefs are true and which are false. In fact, you probably don’t know, and this is the problem. If you knew, you would not be uncertain about your true identity. If you knew, you would not be experiencing conflict and inner turmoil; you would be experiencing peace. Therefore, let go of them all! Let go of everything you think you know about who you are, and see what’s left.

When you let go of everything you think you know about yourself and stay with what’s left, when you willingly abandon the contradictory evaluations of who you are and courageously reach deeply into yourself in order to experience yourself directly, you will come upon a new experience of who you are. You will sense the creative energy that is the life of you, and you will then define and think about yourself in a new and expanded way. And since the way you think about and define yourself is central to your perception, behavior, and experience of the world, your world will spontaneously change as your self-concept changes and comes into closer alignment with what’s really true.


The second level of stillness involves living your daily life with this new and growing inner certainty of who you really are. In other words, meditation in action. This is not always easy, and it takes a little getting used to, for it means staying in touch with the deepest truth about yourself in the midst of daily life. This involves continually letting go of the judgments, evaluations, and contradictory opinions about yourself that arise in your mind throughout the day and in your relationships with other people. You do this by staying centered in your peace. You thereby learn to be suspicious of any suggestion – from yourself or others – that speaks of your guilt, your unworthiness, or your unlovableness. You learn it is appropriate to disregard any remaining inner self-criticism because in Level One you experienced yourself in a new way: as fundamentally lovable, innocent of all blame, and therefore deserving of every good thing.

Having experienced the truth about yourself in Level One, albeit momentarily, you had an insight – a glimmer of clarity, a moment of experience – about an inner truth that you can’t quite ignore. You experienced yourself in a new way and now know your deepest truth, even though you may not yet fully believe it. Part of you knows the truth, but you’re not totally convinced, and understandably so. Besides, when you are surrounded by others who are instead convinced of other things, it is doubly difficult to overcome your doubts.

This is similar to what it must have been like for Copernicus when he first suspected that the world was round. He had an insight into the way things are, yet part of him probably still believed the flat-world theory. And because he was surrounded by other flat-world theorists, and because he couldn’t yet prove the world was round, it would have been difficult for him to be fully convinced or convincing to others.

The way to experience the truth of who you are (Level One) is by letting go of all your learned preconceptions about yourself and then staying present and open-minded for the experience. The way to stay in touch with your truth (Level Two), and confirm it to yourself over and over until there is absolutely no doubt, is by continuing to do what you did in Level One, but doing it now moment by moment during the day. This means, essentially, letting go of pretense and self-critical judgment and allowing self-acceptance – letting yourself be who you truly are. Again, you do this by staying centered in your peace, for only when you are at peace will you have the clearest perspective. By staying centered in your peace in the midst of daily life, you will validate your new perception of yourself and gradually become fully convinced. As a consequence, you will then be convincing to others.

How to Start

Let’s look at two excellent techniques for developing stillness and peace of mind. Both of these use your breathing as the primary focal point and both involve learning how to sit absolutely still. Sitting absolutely still – practicing conscious physical immobility – can teach you how to be in the conflict-free, higher-energy, “stillness” state for more of your daily life. You can learn what it feels like to have all your energy perfectly aligned and in harmony, like the spinning top. You can learn to participate fully in your experience of the now and still be relaxed. You can learn to be perfectly centered. And, of course, the more familiar you are with the feeling and experience of being centered, the easier it will be to stay that way. And since moving away from your center has been the source of all your suffering, the sooner you notice yourself going off, the better.

The importance of Level One (meditation) as an aid to the stable attainment of Level Two (meditation in action) cannot be overemphasized. The more familiar you are with the feeling-tone of your own centered being when you are “home” and alone, the more obvious it will be when you move away from it, and the easier it will be to find your way back to center in the midst of a busy life.

Counting Backward

In this exercise you will be counting backward from fifty to zero, synchronizing the counting with your breathing. You’ll count the even numbers as you exhale and the odd numbers as you inhale.

Sit with your back straight and your eyes closed. If you can sit comfortably on the floor, do so. Otherwise, use a chair. Be comfortable.

Begin by breathing in gently, fully. As yell exhale, mentally say “fifty.” As you breathe in again, mentally say “forty-nine,” exhale “forty-eight,” inhale “forty-seven,” exhale “forty-six” … and so on.

Count backward on both the in-breath and the out-breath until you reach “twenty,” then count only on exhales. Silently count “twenty” as you exhale. Then, instead of counting “nineteen” on the in-breath, do nothing, just inhale. With the next exhalation count “nineteen” … and so on until you reach zero.

When you reach zero, stop counting, but stay aware of the natural flow of breath in exactly the same way as when you were counting. Watch the breath as though you were going to count, but don’t count. As you do this, practice sitting absolutely still. But don’t hold yourself still. Simply be so relaxed that no movement occurs.

Be very aware of how you feel as you do this–how peaceful, energized, calm. Notice how pleasantly alert you are, how serene, fearless, at ease. Familiarize yourself with this feeling, with the feeling-tone of being centered and at peace, and rest here another two or three minutes. Absorb the stillness. Then prepare yourself, open your eyes, and return. This will take six or seven minutes.

As you do this exercise, breathe normally. Do not do deep breathing or control the breath in any way. This is important. You are learning not to be in control. You are learning to get out of the way. Therefore, rather than controlling the breath, allow it to flow freely in and out at its own natural pace. Yet, stay aware of the breath. Keep track of the numbers. As the breath comes in, count. As the breath goes out, count. And when you reach zero, stay aware of the breath nonverbally. There should be no strain in your breathing as you do this. Keep it soft and easy.

As you count backward, you may be more aware than usual of your mind darting rapidly from one object of attention to another. You may be unusually aware of sounds, physical sensations, or thoughts. You may lose count altogether. None of this matters. All of these things are evidence that the technique is working. You’re becoming more aware.

The value of this technique lies in its ability to help you notice where your attention is from moment to moment, what’s in your mind, and the contents of your consciousness. The counting is not only a centering device and a way of developing concentration, of training your mind to focus, it also acts as a backdrop on which your thoughts become very apparent.

For now, however, do not do anything with the various thoughts or sensations that arise. Simply be aware of them and continue counting. Gradually become more aware, more quiet within yourself, and increasingly dynamically still. As you immerse yourself in your stillness–and this is something that improves with each attempt–you will experience an unexpected and immensely satisfying sense of contentment and ease. Feel the peace.

Mindfulness of Breathing

Sit on the floor with your back straight and eyes closed. If you are unable to sit on the floor, use a chair. Be comfortable.

Begin with a somewhat deep and gentle inhalation. Hold the air for a moment, then release it slowly in a long, thin exhalation. Do this three times. Then, focus your awareness in your body and feel yourself breathing.

As attentively as you can, note the changing sensations throughout your body that accompany each breath. Tune in to the subtle differences in sensation between the inhalation and exhalation. What does it feel like to inhale? What does it feel like to exhale? How do you know which is happening? And where in your body do you actually feel the breathing taking place? The most obvious sensations will be in your abdomen, chest, or nostrils, but you can feel the movement of breath elsewhere, too. In fact, there may be nowhere in your body that you cannot feel it. Experience what’s happening.

Make no attempt to regulate or control your breathing as you do this. Again, practice letting go of control. Allow the breath to flow in and out on its own without your intervention. Some breaths will be deep, some will be shallow. Every breath will be different. All you need to do is be aware. You will experience the unbroken flow of breath when your mind is in an unbroken state, your attention continuous and one-pointed. That is the quality we want to cultivate, undivided attention to the instant of conscious experience you happen to be in.

Sit motionless, experience your whole body breathing, and then ride the breath into the sensation of yourself. Feel you. Experience the feeling-tone of the vibrating energy in your body, the overall sensation of “you.” Practice becoming still and familiarize yourself with the actual feeling of stillness and peace.

If you find it difficult to concentrate on the subtle sensations that accompany breathing, say “in” to yourself as you breathe in and “out” as you breathe out. When your attention strays, notice this and then return it to the constantly changing sensations throughout your breathing body.

Be thoroughly relaxed as you practice this technique. Sit tall and be absolutely still. Give yourself your own undivided attention, ride the breath into the feeling-tone of you, and concentrate on that feeling. Immerse yourself in it. Feel you. Do this for five or ten minutes. Do it for a few moments whenever you can. Do it now, if possible. This will prepare you for the next chapter.

Coming Back to Center

Motionless sitting is probably the easiest way of learning to be centered. Being centered, however, does not require that you be physically motionless. You learn to be centered, and you become increasingly familiar with the energetic feeling-tone of stillness through the practice of motionless sitting, and you immerse yourself in it as fully as you can when you can, but you then carry that feeling-tone with you into the motion of your life.

For as many moments of the day as you can, come back to center. Relax into where you are, breathe, and consciously be present in the now. Do this as you are driving, working, in the midst of a conversation – anything, everything – all day long.

And think of it like this: The feeling of stillness is peace, and the feeling of peace is joy. Therefore, come back to center and feel the joy. Do this frequently throughout the day. Come back to center as many moments of the day as you can, and let the joy you feel permeate everything you do.

Erich Schiffmann (born 1953, Los Angeles, California) is an accomplished American Yoga Master widely known for his award-winning video, Yoga Mind & Body, featuring actressAli MacGraw. He is the author of a best-selling book, Moving into Stillness. He has been teaching yoga for more than twenty years. At age 18 Schiffmann sent a handwritten letter to Krishnamurti and was accepted to study with him in England.[ He deepened his practice of yoga

Find out more about Erich @www.movingintostillness.com

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