Every year in October, just before the leaves peak in New York City, Central Park becomes a rest stop for the birds migrating back to South America for the winter. During this time, binoculars and high tech cameras are everywhere with bird watchers behind them, quietly and patiently focused on getting a glimpse of these colorful but quick moving creatures.
As I was cooling off after a run one afternoon, I watched three birds dancing in the air in a pattern I had never seen before. Their swift dives and smooth, swooping turns were magical, not unlike a miniature Quidditch match. As their dark grey wings expanded, a beautiful bright yellow plumage was exposed. After observing them for a few minutes, I determined that their dance was indeed likened to a Quidditch match, only the Snitch was a flying bug they were catching for lunch.
When I observe these beautiful birds stopping by every spring and fall, there is a childlike urge inside that wants to chase them to get a better look as they fly around; but then I recognize it is better to remain still, like the bird watchers, and allow the action to come to me. Quietly observing this colorful flutter of activity creates a quality of peaceful, focused, stillness in the heart center that also comes about through other practices such as meditation, Reiki and yoga. No wonder bird watching in Central Park has become such a popular activity that transcends both age and culture, as revealed in the HBO documentary Birders.
Fall is the time when Mother Nature produces her one last flash of outward beauty and color, while simultaneously preparing to retreat into her heart center for the winter, reminding us that we too can find stillness in the midst of activity anytime we choose. For a long time, I used to feel a bit nostalgic during the autumn months, as many people do, but in recent years I’ve learned to embrace this time of retreat into the darkest days of the year. This is when our natural rhythms are given a chance to slow down, and in the stillness a renewed inspiration is allowed to shine through. When Arianna Huffington gave a talk about her book, Thrive, she discussed both the practicalities and the wisdom around connecting with this inner stillness. Backed by the scientific studies she includes in her book, she emphasized meditation and sleep as necessary ingredients to being focused and productive, but also for improving relationships and discovering greater meaning in our lives.
As I prepared for the first weekend course of this year’s Shinpiden (Reiki III) program, I reread a section from a book on Chinese medicine that describes change and transformation as being sourced from deep within, a different approach from western medicine which is about cause and effect. While outer circumstances and energetic forces can resonate with the process of transformation, the actual change is internally initiated. When we connect with this stillness that lies at the heart of everything, we begin to discover that the external flutter of activity in life frequently takes care of itself without any real exertion on our part. And when we do direct our outward focus on the elements that resonate with what we value most in our hearts, the manifestation of what we desire becomes a joyful process. The transformations that help us thrive will ultimately come about with ease and grace, without the ego trying to chase it down.
In the Reiki precepts, the practitioner is instructed to morning and evening place their hands in gassho (prayer position) to center the heart and mind. As Arianna gave her talk, she led the audience through a one-minute meditation, anchoring everyone in a place of peace and self-compassion, exhaling fear and worry with each breath. She reminded them afterwards that this space is available to them anytime, as well as being a powerful way to begin and end the day. She also addressed people’s fear that if they unplug and let the mind become still, they will drop the ball and miss out on success. In actuality, when we allow the mind to experience stillness for even just a few minutes, we begin to gain clarity and operate more effectively.
Overcoming any fears of the dark quiet stillness within offers us the opportunity to find renewed inspiration, as this is the space where the mind and body can ultimately recalibrate. Anahata, the Sanskrit word for the Heart Chakra, means unstruck or sound made without two objects striking. The heart is where we find unity with all of life, where we find our equilibrium to just be and allow life to take care of itself. It is where we surrender and let go of the ego and all its attachments so we can begin to see our lives more clearly. Without stillness we cannot experience the joyous dance of life. Without darkness we cannot take pleasure in the colorful textures of the world around us. Without emptiness we cannot appreciate the fullness of life, just as it is at any given moment.