364. What is Stillness?

Zazen is sometimes referred to as the still, still state.

What is meant by stillness?

What we need to understand is that stillness, in this context, does not mean the absence of movement in space—it means the absence of movement in time.

There is ‘stillness’ because what is vividly present to us now has not carried over from the past and will not carry over into the future. It is outside Time, our normal sense of time, because that has a flattening and distancing effect on our experience.  

This experience of stillness – suchness – is familiar, although overlooked. Sometimes we may simply chance upon it. For example, a tree in autumn with dramatic and fiery colors somehow catches us.  We’re not seeing the tree as an object in our consciousness within a structure of past, present and future. The tree is in a kind of communion with us, a charged field of being in presence.

In the Vimalakirti Sutra there’s a mythical representation of this. We’re asked to imagine a realm where, instead of a world of material things, there’s simply a world of fragrances. You can see in that imaginary world how it’s much easier to think of the instantaneous present because the continuity implied by objects – including the self – just isn’t there. Like a clumsy god who accidentally creates a world, once we crystallise experience into objects, Time adheres, like dust falling onto mirrors.