t is common in the world of self-development and spirituality to be told to “look into” or “feel into” a specific idea, situation, question, or journaling prompt. And if you are anything like me you might have wondered more than once, how exactly do I do that? I have an answer for you; it is one of my favorite practices: Cultivating Calmness.
Cultivating Calmness is not meditation. Much time spent studying various Eastern traditions with a focus on Hinduism and Buddhism, learning some rudimentary Sanskrit, and gaining my masters degree in Eastern Classics has given me the confidence to say that eastern style and influenced meditation practices are typically about emptying out…the noise, the chatter, the illusions we all carry about.
So while Cultivating Calmness can be paired with many other meditative and contemplative practices, it is also something that can stand-alone by itself.
This practice is rooted in personal experience but it is also rooted in faerie tales and folklore. There is often a claim that the indigenous people of Europe and the Mediterranean as well as the Americas – the so-called Western World – did not have developed practices for contemplation and meditation. But when we look at the folktales and faerie tales that emerge from these various cultures we see that they most certainly did; they just looked different than what we are used to today.
What I noticed in the stories was that Otherworldly experiences occurred, great boons were gifted, and deep insights discovered, while people went about their rote, daily chores, like washing dirty clothes down at the river and then hanging them to dry, or taking a walk through the wild wood, or gathering corn for a feast or going out to hunt. What struck me most was that the activities described were common enough that one would get into “the zone” while doing them, that is, settle into themselves and let their minds contemplate and their hearts feel into whatever they were most concerned with at the time.
These observations came together for me a few years back right after I had my baby boy. As a brand new mom I myself was doing a lot of laundry and other rote chores and noticed that during these occasions I received inspiration after inspiration along with clear knowledge about how to put my findings into practical action.
At the time of my child’s birth I was running a business, working with hundreds of clients, and did not have time to formally meditate. I realized that the routine industry that was such a part of many of my ancestors’ lives – because they were working people and always busy – could cover them in a kind of calmness that allowed them to truly open up to whatever concerns, observations, or sensations they had been carrying around with them.
Knowing that in today’s world most of us are not going to spend all day doing routine domestic chores, I distilled the essence of what I saw occurring and created the practice of Cultivating Calmness.
The assumption that I made when developing this practice is that we have worlds within us that carry deep teaching and good medicine and that we can access easily if we will take the time and make the space to do so. Cultivating Calmness is the practice that begins that process for me and for my students. Do it once a day or several times a day and open up.
Cultivating Calmness, practice one ~ The Door
Sit, stand, or lie down in a comfortable position and focus on your breathing for a few breaths-usually anywhere from 10-20 breaths so that your in-breath is equal in measure to your out-breath.
Gently allow your eyes to drift closed and see, sense, touch, and feel, a door frame in front you opening out into nothing but darkness.
With each in breath bring this doorway and the darkness beyond it closer and closer to you-you do not move to it, it comes to you.
Go through the doorway into the darkness. All is calm. All is quiet.
Cultivating Calmness, practice two ~ The Breath
Feel your own breath—in and out, in and out.
Simply breathe regularly and allow your breath to gradually slow down.
Begin to notice the space between the in and out breath. Allow that space to grow until it surrounds you. All is calm. All is quiet.
Cultivating Calmness, practice three ~ The Tortoise
See, sense, touch, know, hear, and feel, that you are like a great tortoise. Your two arms and two legs protrude from your large shell, your head too emerges so that you might feel the breeze and see the stars.
Affirm your desire to cultivate calmness.
Slowly and with care draw your right leg into your shell and with it your sense of outward touch so that you might have inward sensation.
Draw your left leg into your cavern-like shell and with it your sense of outward taste so that you have inward savoring.
Draw your right arm into your deep body and with it your sense of outward hearing so that you may have inward listening.
Likewise draw your left arm into the center and with it your outward seeing so that you may have inward vision.
Finally draw your head into your great shell and with it your outward thoughts so that you may have inward wisdom.
All is calm. All is quiet.
(*This last active imagining is my gloss on an image given by Lord Krishna to his dear friend Arjuna in the Hindu holy scripture, The Bhagavad-Gita).