Stillness is Not Stopping


A lot of people have a mistaken view that when they meditate, in being still, everything should stop – thinking, sensations – everything. They have the impression that stillness is a state in which life seems to stop.

And indeed, perhaps that is their unconscious wish.

They misinterpret the words ‘emptiness’ and ‘void’, which they have heard used to describe the stillness that arises from effective meditation as meaning ‘nothing’. As if in some way, meditation is supposed to create some kind of nihilistic state of being in which all things disappear, including consciousness – a divine kind of suicide.

But this is very wrong.

And to use the meditation methods to try to create this ‘stopping of life’ will only lea to frustration.

So here’s the thing … in effective meditation it’s only our attention that we’re encouraging to go still. Everything else – awareness, thoughts, sensations, sounds – life itself – it all keeps going. And it always will, until you eventually die. So to try, or expect thinking, sensations and so on to stop when you meditate, is wrong. Very wrong.

For sure, your perception of the stuff of life might change – for example, in meditation the quality of thinking might change, particularly if you’re meditating a lot, like in silent retreat. After meditating intensively over a long period of time, thinking gradually loses its languaged form and becomes like characterless energy arising in the mind. Pain loses its hurt and becomes intense sensation, as does pleasure – in fact, sometimes they can even resemble each other.

But nothing ever stops.

Because I’ll say it again, in effective meditation, only the attention is trained to go still.

When the attention goes still, even though everything else continues, a sense of stillness appears.


Because it is our meddlesome, hyperactive, thinking, worrying attention that stimulates all the ‘un-stillness’ in the mind, and in our lives. The other qualities of life are simply what they are – awareness, pain, pleasure, thinking – they come and go as they will. But it is our attention that holds them in place, ether as memory or reaction, and turns them into suffering of one kind or another.

So then:

  • Awareness is not the problem – it just is. We’re either aware or we are not. But it is the attention that names, judges and reacts, that prods the body into the anxious hormonal responses of desire or aversion.
  • Sensations on their own are not the problem – it’s our attention which judges them as pain or pleasure then pushes us to react.
  • Our environment is not the problem – it is our attention that either likes our environment or dislikes it and makes us react.

And so on.  You get the idea.

So, in meditation all we are dealing with – the only part of mind we are training – is the attention.

We use the meditation methods to train it to let go.

Let go of what?

Let go of everything. Not stop, or escape, or hide, or suppress – just let go of whatever it gets stuck on – to accept it as it is and immediately disengage. Leave it be.

This is the skill you are teaching the mind when you use meditation methods.

Life and all its parts have their own momentum, their own dynamic character. Life moves from one extreme to the other, from stormy to calm and back – from pleasure to pain, from happiness to despair. And our problems with these extremes and everything in between, has never been the things themselves – but always our reactions to them – the reactions our attention elicits in the mind when t gets stuck on things – opinions, pain, pleasure, whatever – when it gets stuck in some life state, and can’t stop worrying at it, hating it, or clinging to it.

So, in using meditation methods to train the attention to be still, we create stillness within the storm. We allow the natural vicissitudes of life – of comfort and discomfort, pain and pleasure, happiness and despair, to pass through, without our meddlesome attention making things worse by getting obsessed with what’s happening, or clinging to it.

Like an oak tree, our attention remains steady and calm, no matter how furious is the wind that whips at its leaves.


‘BEING STILL – MEDITATION THAT MAKES SENSE’, Roger’s new book, is available now.


BEING STILL’ is available on Amazon as a paperback ……………. AUD $26.40 (incl. GST)

‘BEING STILL’ is also available as a Kindle ebook ………………………………………..AUD $11.99

‘BEING STILL’ the audiobook (including all exercises) ………………………………. AUD $25.00

(The audiobook includes all the exercises, as well as ebooks of Being Still, to fit any device.)