After reading My Grandfather's Blessings: Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging
by Rachel Naomi Remen last week, I was at a loss for what to read next. I picked up and started a few interesting titles, but nothing held my interest. All I could think of was Remen’s call to action that we bless life:
Blessing life moves us closer to each other and to our authentic selves. When people
are blessed they discover their lives matter, that there is something in them worthy of blessing. And when you bless others, you may discover this same thing is true about yourself.
But when I picked up Into the Stillness, I felt a familiar reframe echo in the subtitle—Dialogues on Awakening Beyond Thought. And so, this book chose itself.
As I always do, mostly to provide perspective and reinforce that you can’t judge a book by the Publisher’s description, here is what the Publisher has to say:
At once extraordinarily wide-ranging and sharply focused, Into the Stillness offers several deceptively simple and informal conversations about life, existence, and identity in one book.
This is an important book. Don’t be misled by the casually graceful repartee and lightness of touch. Without dogma, without heavy shoulds and should nots, authors Gary Weber and Richard Doyle point toward something eternal, framed in our twenty-first-century understanding of neuroscience, spirituality, and something that arises from, and returns to, the Stillness and the Silence.
As a journey, this collection of dialogues is inspiring, shifting, and full of little moments of insight that will linger for a long time afterward.
While I agree that this is an important and inspiring book, it was far from an easy read. The nuance, both in the subject matter and in the repartee between in the authors, had me reading sections of the book over and over again, making sure that I grasped the subtlety of the points before I moved on. Honestly, I must have missed the “little moments of insight,” because I found the entire book insightful.
Clearly, the authors wrote this book in dialogue form to make a point. They wanted to show people why dialogue is important, that it is, indeed, possible to have open discussions without anybody feeling threatened by simply allowing the conversation to unwind. Part of their message is that dialogue isn’t just about what we know and don’t know. Rather, it's about creating a space where knowledge can emerge; that by opening up to let what manifests, manifest. By creating the conditions for not knowing, by letting whatever comes out, come out of that space of not knowing, a lot of learning can take place. And in that authenticity, openness begins to pulse and breathe. What a beautiful idea for our troubled world!
Into The Stillness starts with a discussion on predestination, the idea that everything since the big bang has conspired to bring us to this very point in time. Predestination is often thought to help us come up against the fact that the future itself is a kind of fiction because it relies on the separation of ourselves from the present moment. Put more simply, if we dwell in the present moment, the question of predestination can’t arise. Why? Because there is no sense of time; because we just are; because there is only now. Unfolding.
With predestination laid to rest and “unfolding just now” firmly established, the authors move on to the experience of singular (non-dual) awakening—experiencing the emptiness, silence, and stillness within. Into the Stillness is about achieving a state of Oneness and Stillness, which they also describe as Source or Presence. They define this as a state that is allusive because our enculturation consists of everything but that space. We have learned to fear that space, to fear stillness of any kind, to fear any moment of pure silence. But it is exactly in that silence we begin to grow.
Congratulations! We just made it to page 28. This book is dense.
The remainder of the book, 30 chapters worth, explores all facets of Stillness and Oneness. Topics include Non-dual Awakening, Attachment and Suffering, Enlightenment Is A Process—Not a Goal, Getting to Stillness In A Crisis, Letting Go Into the Abyss of Joy and Stillness, Religion Has Failed, Now What, The “I” Can’t Dance, Where, When and Why You Get Stuck On the Path, to name a few. Each Chapter is its own unique conversation that stands alone. Once I realized this, I stop reading the chapters in order, and read them in the order of my interest. And I found within each chapter, there is much wisdom and experience shared. A few key and profound takeaways for me included:
When you start letting go of attachments, you begin to realize you aren’t who you thought you were.
We can only see ourselves through our relationships (with people and things).
We need to get away from the idea that simplifying our consumption and simplifying our life somehow means we are living a less aesthetic existence.
One of the most important practices is to experiment with the idea that everything is totally and absolutely perfect.
As you remain in Source, Stillness, or Presence (whatever word you want to use), you find the actions that manifest are much more prescient, organic, and holistic than your fragmented mind can come up with.
How can we get coherence out of someone whose mind is running at 55,000 thoughts a day?
Is there a way for us to transition into a kind of society that is post-religious but intensely sacred? Our institutions have taken the power away from us. We have been disempowered.
Finding a space that is not changing feels good.
I could go on. I have annotated many, many more thoughts and ideas I want to return to, reread, and reconsider.
This was not an easy read, but it was a profound read. I suggest that you take your time, and read Into The Stillness chapter by chapter, allowing the concepts, ideas, suggestions to wash over you. Give yourself time to consider and absorb the practical wisdom each chapter contains.
Into the Stillness is a book that I will return to over and over.