The way through any crisis is to go deeper, to find the stillness that never changes and yet is the creative source of all change through the countless shifting shapes that life takes.
Culturally we no longer revere this stillness. We even deny it and have long worshiped the golden calf of speed and action for its own sake. We have forgotten the power of stillness to release peace and creativity upon the sufferings and challenges we confront. If it seems hard for us to regain contact with this stillness it is because we have lost touch with the obvious ways to do so – of which meditation is the most obvious, most simple and most immediate.
There are, however, states and stages that come at different times and in which access to this stillness suddenly becomes clear and simple. It may be a state of great joy, when we have first found love with another person, or a state of profound loss when what we thought would always be there is suddenly whisked away. These kinds of states and their variables come and go. But they are recurrent windows of opportunity that we can recognize if we take sufficient detachment from the emotions they throw up in us.
Stages are more like milestones. They remind us that we are on a journey through a linear experience of time even though there seem to be many cycles repeating themselves as well. In other words, none of us are getting any younger. Except in the sense that, as our union with God deepens, we realize God is always younger than we are: so we do become younger as we grow older if we have awakened to the purpose and meaning of time.
Stillness is not a state of piety or belief. It is their source as of all our devotion and values. The special stages of life in which we can most readily enter this stillness and ‘know God’ are childhood and, if we have stayed awake, old age. But the reassuring thing is that we can access the childlike state here and now because ‘the kingdom of heaven is very near to you’.
Children themselves are the most powerful authority for teaching this. I would also add those who found wisdom through suffering or those who enjoy prosperity with poverty of spirit. But children are the best teachers. This was brought out well last night at the Meditatio Centre in London, where we were launching a book by a former teacher who has written a book on meditation with children.* He has given a voice to the children he spoke with about their experience. Their simple and profound comments are very economical.
Ella (9) said, ‘When I meditate it feels like me and God are connected.. like he’s giving me loads of love when I’m meditating. I can feel his love. And sometimes in my dreams, I’m meditating and I can see God sitting there beside me meditating’. And Aideen (11) said, ‘I think we can all be like God if we try, so.. we all have a little bit of God in us.’
The anxiety and fear that often dominate us in later life are frequently linked to our childhood. We almost expect to become more burdened and complex as we get older and so forget that this state of childhood is still accessible. We give up the attempt to reconnect to it too quickly, too pessimistic and lacking faith in the wonder of our own being.
Stillness, simplicity and silence are the undivided trinity of states that lead us to become like children again.