Tranquility: The Storm Before the Calm
How finding peace in life can be as easy (or as hard) as breathing. Part II of SoMA’s "Summer Soul Series."
By Mary Beth Crain
In our efforts to keep afloat on life’s rough waters, most of us are like the proverbial cork bobbing to and fro on the stormy sea. We are buffeted by the emotions, tossed about by circumstance. We’re cool one minute, miserable the next. As long as things are good and life behaves, we’re happy. But as soon as something goes amiss, the illusion of happiness vanishes. We are dependent, it seems, on external forces that we can’t control. As such, how could we possibly be tranquil beings?
We can’t—until we really understand what tranquility is.
We can divide tranquility into two categories: its aspects and its practice.
According to the various spiritual disciplines, the aspects of tranquility include:
But how does one achieve these states? First and foremost, through meditation.
In her essay, “This Very Moment”(“Ordinary Magic: Everyday Life as Spiritual Path,” John Welwood, ed., Shambhala Press), Charlotte Jodo Beck observes,
Tranquility is the absence of fear. It is the opposite of anxiety. The truly enlightened person experiences tranquility as a state of being. If anything should happen to momentarily upset his tranquility, he is able to return quickly to his center. As a stone is thrown into a tranquil lake, it creates momentary ripples that soon subside, and the lake is tranquil again. It is only through silence and deep centeredness that we can move past the self, the ego, which is the source of all fear.
It is not enough, however, to know momentary tranquility. It is not enough to lie on the beach, listening to the waves and gulls, and feel peaceful until we rise and get into our car and become unnerved once more by the problems and stresses of daily life. It is not enough to meditate once a month, or once a year. The feeling of tranquility is transitory; we lose it as soon as we return to the anger, frustration and anxiety that are an inevitable part of the “real” world. True tranquility means being able to sustain a sense of equilibrium no matter what happens. Like any skill or talent, it must be practiced until it becomes part of our being.
From Charlotte Jodo Beck’s essay, we see that the practice of tranquility requires three essential things:
Interestingly, these are the three essential attributes of Kung Fu practice. The original purpose of Kung-Fu training was to achieve tranquility through spiritual enlightenment: “To calm the mind and from that quiet place comes God.” The “Three R’s of Self-Defense” in Kung-Fu are:
Don’t react is really the equivalent of paying attention. Don’t reject is accepting things as they are. And don’t resist is being in the moment, going with what is happening now.
Tranquility is the central goal of Kriya Yoga as well. “The Kriya Path is: Attaining eternal Tranquility by practice of Pranayam and continuing meditations on the Formless, i.e. Tranquility.” Pranayam, or breathing exercises, “dissolve the mind and intellect by attaining naturally the still state of breath from the operation of Prana, Apana, Smaman, Udana and Byana.” Through a specific system of breathing, which takes in the Prana, or life force, and channels it into, essentially, cosmic energy that flows from us into the universe, and back from the universe into us, in a continuing cycle of shared life, tranquility is attained—tranquility being synonymous with “the Formless,” that state of sublime union with the infinite which can not be described in words or images.
The detachment from the ego, from the idea of separateness, is a critical aspect of tranquility. In his essay “Being Peace,” the famed Buddhist spiritual teacher Thich Nhat Hanh discusses the practice of “Engaged Buddhism.”
When we divest ourselves of the notion of individuality, we are able to feel the sense of interconnectedness with all life that is at the heart of all spiritual philosophies, and at the heart of tranquility. We can truly feel compassion, benevolence, joyful sympathy, not just intellectually but all through our being. These are no longer concepts or ideals, they are part of us, because we have transcended the “I-Them” myth that is at the heart of all strife and suffering.
Through meditation, we move past the “I” and into the “Us.” As Sogyal Rinpoche observes in “Glimpse After Glimpse,”
How do we meditate? There is no “right” way; meditation can take many forms. You can do Zen “sitting” meditation, or “walking” meditation. You can do Hindu “chanting” meditation. You can do Yoga breathing exercises while gazing at a spot on the wall. You can sit quietly with a Bible passage, reflecting upon it until it actually enters your being. The common meditational ground among all spiritual practices, however, is to find a quiet, peaceful place, and make the time—half an hour to an hour—during which you can sit undisturbed, breathing deeply and naturally, relaxing each muscle in your body, allowing your thoughts to come and go, focusing on no-thing, until gradually you experience the exhilaration of detachment from the ego and the emotions that opens the door to tranquility.
Stay tuned for “Tranquility, Part III: The Many Facets of the Diamond.”
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Did you miss Part 1, "Tranquility: Mystical State or Practical Tool?" Click here.
Mary Beth Crain is the contributing editor at SoMAreview.com.
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