Stillness, a sense of internal quiet, is hard to come by. Stillness calms the mind, allows the body’s many systems—nervous system, cardiovascular system, endocrine and lymph systems—function as designed, at high levels.
Any doctor will tell you that it’s not surprising that things go wrong in people. What’s surprising is that things do not go wrong all the time, simultaneously and continuously. That’s how complex is the interplay of the body’s systems; that’s how much opportunity for error exists.
That’s why stillness is important: We are designed to be healthy; our bodies want to be healthy. The challenge: find the time to ward off the innumerable mental, emotional and physical stresses and environmental pressures of the modern world and allow the body to quietly recalibrate itself. “The Wisdom of the Body:” A book in the 1930s by Walter Cannon, M.D., a great doctor.
Over the millennia people in all cultures found many ways to achieve stillness via meditation or prayer. Our difficulty in the modern Western world is to incorporate periods of meditation into our work schedules. The trick is to find this time, then calm down enough to meditate.
To achieve stillness, I had to get cancer. I had to be involved in a fight for my life, out on disability, with time on my hands and the proper incentive—continued existence—to meditate. Thank you, Monster.
Several times a day, I revert to the Stone Age and emulate an ancient hunter standing motionless for long periods. Several times a day I scan the horizon for game, my ever-expanding peripheral vision detecting the slightest motion. Conversely, I do not move, in case an animal higher up on the food chain is also looking for a meal.
I hold my arms in an arc in front of my sternum, as though lightly grasping a large tree trunk to steady myself in a strong wind. After ten minutes or so my shoulders burn from the strain of holding up my arms. It would be wonderful relief to drop them onto my thighs. I am tempted mightily. But then the game would flee and I would starve, or the saber-tooth tiger would detect my motion and I would be eaten.
This desire to quit infuriates me and I resolve to use my will not to quit. I regulate my breathing, and my mind calms. After a few more minutes of aching the pain strangely leaves.
No longer can I feel my arms, and the soles of my feet seem rooted deeply into the earth. No longer is it necessary to muster my will to continue standing or use my mind to regulate my breathing; it just happens. No longer am I embracing a tree; I’ve become one.
Suddenly the trembling begins from the soles of my feet, travels up through my cartilage-deficient knees, cancer-ravaged hips, arthritic spine, aching ribs, outstretched arms and finally my skull. I jiggle, I shake, I quake uncontrollably, as if I’m being pulled in all directions by unseen forces. Is this a seizure? Should someone call 911? My spine seems to elongate and the pain from the damage done to several vertebrae, right shoulder, both hips and various connective tissues by the lymphoma cancer evaporates.
My body is in a state of spontaneous, unstoppable belly laughter. Surely this cannot be bad?
Moments later the quaking begins to cease, my body jerks and thrusts once or twice and then is still. My breathing calms and my body feels as though every joint is open. I experience a kind of quiet euphoria. It’s as though a mild orgasm has infused every part of me; as if my semen has leaked from my testicles and backed up into my bloodstream.
What has happened? The Chinese would say that chi, or life energy, has been absorbed from the earth and heavens into my body. This energy has traveled through channels or meridians within me to be stored in energy centers, or dan tiens located along the central axis of my body. The trembling is the result of chi making its way through blockages in my battered body.
How could you explain this trembling from a Western point of view? Muscle fatigue?
How in Western terms could you explain the benefits of this meditation? Perhaps holding your arms in an arc stimulates the thymus gland beneath the sternum, and the posture activates the lymph nodes in the neck, chest, groin and legs—vital parts of the immune system. Until tests are done to determine levels of immune-system components, such as T-cells, it will only be speculation. We who meditate will have to go on faith.
My eyes open. I glance at my watch on the grass: forty-five minutes since I raised my arms in this posture. Slowly I lower them and energy, like pinpricks of electricity, pulses in my palms and the soles of my feet.
For periods of fleeting seconds during the meditation, I’ve actually forgotten myself, my ego, fears, ambitions, likes and dislikes, loves and hates—and the ten thousand insipid thoughts that flow through my mind continuously, waste water in the sewers of Paris.
Achieving such a state, even for moments, is like being alive and dead at the same time. Maybe nirvana, Valhalla, or heaven is not such a bad thing after all.