The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Robert Frost, 1923.
We hurtle faster and faster. To keep pace with a changing world, a morphing society. To keep up with the Joneses. All around us are triggers to keep us in action. Project deadlines at the workplace. To do lists stuck on the refrigerator door. Management seminars extolling the virtues of proactive action and business initiatives. Weekly coaching sessions empowering us to move towards the rainbow of purpose and goals.
As I watch the TV screen, I find more prejudices against inaction. As protests and deaths in the country continue unabated,Syria is warned of inaction by the Arab league, Americans say that they just cannot have any further inaction by Washington as health insurance costs skyrocket. In India, Anna Hazare and his team accuse the Government of inaction to introduce a strong anti-corruption legislation.
Awhile back, I had read about a little known but interesting incident of the Second World War in which afterFrance’s surrender to the German forces in June 1940, a large part of the French navy positioned elsewhere at Gibraltar remained frozen in inaction and refused to follow the Allies instructions. Till they were bombed and fired upon by the British navy!
So is inaction always bad? And why do we sometimes freeze up and halt all action as the French naval commander had done? I ponder as I try to find some answers. If action signifies moving forward towards light and a better future, does it imply that inaction means something backward and worse? Unfortunately, in today’s materialistic and achievement oriented world and society, this is the belief that stands constantly reinforced. So as we love to show our own “bias for action”, we lump all inaction with lethargy and vacuousness.
But does action always imply moving forward? Does it always demand achievement of discernible goals? Our perception, fed on a diet of instant gratification, equates action to goal achievement. But does this not detract from the importance of the action steps, the empowerment of the action journey? And does this not lead us to judge the other person by results rather than the path he follows?
And what about inaction? Does it always signify the stillness of the unborn, the slowing down of atoms, the dissipation of energy? What if there indeed be intrinsic positivity in the stillness of no action? In the Chinese Tao philosophy, wei wu wei means “action without action”. As we observe, we reflect. As we comprehend, we try to make sense of it all. As we strategise, we commit our intentions. Do we realise that goal achievement and critical perspective shifts usually flow from such moments of contemplative inaction?
I believe much of the world’s misconceptions arise due to a lack of understanding of what action truly signifies. And the news stories above underscore this point. So how do we differentiate between the inaction of no action and the stillness of “making sense of it all”?
Simply put, inaction occurs from a fear of the unknown, of leaving our comfort zone. From remaining stuck due to our underlying beliefs (UBs). So the sooner we get down to confronting our fears, unpacking the baggage of our UBs and letting them go, that much faster we regain our airy fairy childhood state of unhampered curiosity and motion.
But when we stand still to ‘make sense of it all”, we do not really choose to move. We seek instead the solace of something still, something changeless, something which will anchor us from the slippery slopes of uncertainty. Like a sheet of still water reflecting back and providing reassurance of our own inherent changelessness. As we visualise the road forward with intention to act and bring in the change.
So, as the world around us moves in an ever maddening whirl, do we retain the conviction to find the balance between the still and restful “woods” of our inner reflections and the “promises to keep’ of our societal actions? And the wonderment and pleasure of the “miles to go” journey itself?
35 thoughts on “Oh! To be still……..”
Thank you for giving me the link to this, Shakti, it is certainly in the vein of what I wrote in “Be Still”. It seems you and I and many of your readers have thought in the same way for some time. All action is gestated in stillness. Until there is alignment of heart, mind and action, no true beneficial movement is possible. Better to stand still until that alignment is reached!
I have a song I wrote years ago entitled “Phases of the Moon” which includes the lyric “I’ve got miles to go and days before I sleep, and a myriad of promises to keep” which was inspired by Frost’s poem.
Guess we together need to reach a critical mass and tipping point for the world to morph into something better!
Where can I listen to your song?
I’ve emailed you a rough cut of it, don’t have a professional recording of it, yet. That’s on my big “To Do” list, along with 30 other of my songs!
Well Shakti….What a great post of even greater wisdom….So enjoyed reading it. I’ve always been a be still kind of person and have taken heat for it my whole life, but when you come down to it, I am so glad for the wisdom being still has brought me. I wouldn’t have it any other way. The pressures put on society to be a certain way are unmerciful.. time to stop all that and allow people to be who they want to be. Thanks for your words…I shall return and thank you for stopping by my blog….Visionkeeper
It feels so wonderful to be acknowledged by such a seasoned blogger like you. I particularly love your perspective when you say, “… time to stop all that and allow people to be who they want to be.” As one is able to do that, one aligns oneself with one’s own energy space . And this is how one achieves the potential to be light and free.
Cheers and God bless
It is easier said than done to ‘confront our fears’ and I agree that to do so would mean we can go back to being as carefree as we were as kids. But sometimes the costs of facing our fears seem to outweigh the benefits and then by default, we become inactive. And being humans, we have subjective opinions on everything and something that I percieve as inactive may not be so for someone else. At what point does being inactive become a good/bad thing? As an aspiring business manager, I am taught repeatedly that I should be pro-active and never reach the fire-fighting stage. So can I still afford to be inactive, even if it means letting life’s simpler pleasures pass me by?
I agree with you when you say, “It is easier said than done to confront our fears”. And when you say this, I alos believe you mean ’emotional baggage’. But to attain a state of lightness, we need to be aware of this baggage of emotions and beliefs we are carrying. And have the intention to review and release them.
I also acknowledge your argument about being pro-active. But when your pro-activeness is aligned with your passion and values, your actions would occur in a space of lightness and positivity. And you would love to be part of the journey and not be so obsessed with the eventual goals.
Thank you for an interesting perspective. It is a fact that the pace of our lives is tending to become more and more manic and frenetic. Caught in the perpetual Brownian motion state of modern day existence that is also sometimes referred to as the rat race, we feel increasingly compelled to resort to multi-tasking, furiously engaged in the frenzy of keeping up with phone calls, e-mails, text messages, blogs, meetings, and more recently, tweets. We are constantly assailed by a gnawing anxiety anxiety that we may be missing out on something.
It is surely worth pondering whether this relentless and unceasing high pressure existence is at all compatible with mental well-being, and whether it diminishes or enhances the quality of life. We are now deluded into believing that a fun evening is hanging out at a Mall, or at best watching a movie. Even these “pleasures” usually involve a maddening drive through gridlocked traffic, a frenzied search for a parking place, standing in seemingly interminable queues, and returning home utterly spent and exhausted.
No wonder that one needs a couple of days rest to recuperate after a vacation!
Unfortunately, even the kids from my grandchildren’s generation are caught up in an endless whirl of extracurricular activities, birthday parties, googling, Facebook, e-mailing, and texting, when they are not glued to the idiot box, that is.
Whither the simple pleasures of the lotus eater existence of yesteryear? Whither the artless and deeply satisfying bonding with friends and family over a picnic in bucolic surroundings that we once enjoyed? Whither the time to pause and ponder? And to wonder, child-like, at the myriad miracles that nature exhibits around us?
The title of the old song: “Stop the world and let me off” appear very evocative in this context.
My New Year’s resolution is to focus on switching off and to just sit back and watch the world go by. If only I could find the time to do this!
Viney Sahgal ’58
Great to get your comment, inclusive and insightful as always. I particularly like the last sentence, ” If only I could find the time to be still!”. I need to acknowledge you for this as I believe that this is the essence of being able to differentiate between ” DOING and BEING”
DOING is ACTION, our Karma in our Karmasthal. But this also brings in a fair amount of emotional baggage and gets linked to our EGO- our actions, achievements, failures.And it forces us into undesirable behaviour- reacting to others’ words and actions,competitiveness, being judgemental and feeling threatened by others’ successes. DOING thus can feel heavy at times, full of heavy energy.
BEING, associated with stillness, is our deep underlying essence. It is light, free of drama, attachments and needs. In this space, we can be free from the endless cycle of desire and dis-satisfaction.BEING is thus the essence of Lightness.
Maybe this brings in the grain of an idea for a future blog!
I am taking the liberty, Sir, of posting your comments on my blogsite for the benefit of additional eyeballs.
Regards and God Bless.
Shakti Ghosal ’74
I am only sorry that my being out of town and out of touch over the New Year period meant I have only read your last posting today. It’s a great piece of writing with some wonderful insights. At least while out of touch I was being still.
Cheers my friend and keep keeping your eyes and heart so open.
Whenever I hear you, I need to acknowledge the intrinsic warmth that you carry. Do maintain this quality and you would be a great coach and friend to many, many people.
Cheers and God bless.
Liked this…leads us towards stillness in both action and inaction. On a different note, the big vessels used to distil whisky are called Stills- maybe with a reason!
Thanks, lovely to hear from you. I am still thinking of the reasons why the whisky vats are called stills…..! Over a single malt and the resultant stillness of mind, I am sure your contemplations would lead to unearthing of the underlying reasons.
Thanks for this post.As always,it is insightful,challenging the popular and currant perspectives with a holistic and progressive outlook while offering an experiential and far reaching alternative.
In our life situation,your Eye-Openers are really informative,encouraging and immensely helpful.
In Infinite Gratitude
It feels so fulfilling to receive your kind of acknowledgement. Thank you for the same.
Cheers and God Bless.
You are certainly not following this edict as your many posts illustrate !
Management by inaction is an art form thats uniquely Indian viz. waiting for the problem to resolve itself and our topiwallahs are past masters at this. True stillness is rarely experienced by us even in deep sleep and the closest I have come to it is during yoga at the end of the Om chant – just for a fleeting moment and then all the thoughts with to-dos and should-have-beens come rushing in. Stillness is not just of the body but also of the mind and the heart – most of us are burdened with desires, regrets, plans and are never truely still. Deep meditators possibly achieve this more often than most other folks.
Good luck with getting there if you are seriously looking to but then we may not see more of your interesting posts anymore.
Great to see your comments.
What I have tried to highlight is that both Action and Stillness ( read as contemplation) have their inherent positivity and in fact, may even be construed as opposite aspects, both contributing towards goal achievement.One may need an optimal mix of both as they become relevant at different stages of our journey.And of course not to lose sight of the importance of the journey itself ( miles to go before I sleep...). Unfortunately, today’s “instant gratification” and competitive environment mostly demand that results be demonstrated without really giving any importance to the path or the method. The latter might well be a non-optimal or even a downright defective one, which would do more harm than good over the long-term. I believe much of the world’s ailments is due to this reason.We need to slow down, be more reflective, become more experiential.
As far as my posts are concerned, I would strive to sustain them as long as I can!
hi Shakti karma is what rally matters.. results are directly related our karma… the path of performing the karma will automatically be taken care of if we allow our conscious to lead us. .. and the cycle of action continues…
All knowledge comes from action. Divine knowledge comes from unselfish and detached action. This is the teaching of karma yoga.
Like Krishna says in Bhagvat Geeta , “Man gains not actionlessness by abstaining from activity, nor does he rise to perfection by mere renunciation”. Actionlessness comes from devine knowledge till then we have to act.
Swami Chidbhavananda has translated this verse and said “ a fully ripe fruit may be said to have reached the state of perfection. Its taking form from the flower, its development ,growth and maturity are ll different stages of its activity, leading to actionlessness in perfect function. The fully ripe fruit serves its connecion with tree. But if it is plucked before repining, its fulfilment remains incomplete”.
Our life is like evolving from the flower to the ripening fruit. Our action continues till we reach the stage of perfection. If we stop ourselves before we reach the stage we loose meaning in life like picking fruit before ripening.
We have to go on and on and on till we reach the stage of perfection.
Very thought provoking indeed. Bhagvad Geeta and its tenets reveal not only a path but a way of life. Thus the Geeta is holistic in its approach but at the same moment timeless and ageless in its validity. We are blessed to be born in its land.
To me Karma during the journey itself is the ultimate objective and thus one need not be obsessed about reaching a ” stage of perfection”.
Very well expressed . To add to the line of thought i am adding few lines from Adivita Vedant’
“You have enclosed yourself in time and space, squeezed yourself into the span of a lifetime and the volume of a body and thus created the innumerable conflicts of life and death, pleasure and pain, hope (desire) and fear. You cannot be rid of problems without abandoning illusions.”
Vedanta knows no sin. There are mistakes but no sin; and in the long run everything is going to be all right. No Satan — none of this nonsense. Vedanta believes in only one sin, only one in the world, and it is this: the moment you think you are a sinner or anybody is a sinner, that is sin. From that follows every other mistake of what is usually called sin. There have been mistakes in our lives. But we are going on. Glory be unto us that we have made mistakes! Take a long look at your past life. If your present condition is good, it has been caused by all the past mistakes as well as success. Glory be unto success! Glory be unto mistakes! Do not look back upon what has been done. Go ahead”
Thank you Vaidehi for your kind acknowledgement. I like the concept of “Go ahead” as espoused by Advita Vedant. I further believe that mistakes are part of the learning and reflection process and in fact become part of our armour as we journey forward. And hence there can never be any sin in making mistakes.
To me ” Go ahead” would be both action and contemplation.
I am truly enjoying this dicussions. all of us have our understanding of life which time and experience has taught us . we always feel the need to get clarity on many of our understadings. we are all in a way confused with ourselves. This discussions is certainly helping me understand my thoughts even better
True karma is important and to be able to enjoy every moment of it is even more important. Karma gives us joy and sense of satisfaction if our objectives are clear and the karma is aliened to the objective. if not we do things only for the sake of doing it and thus loose interest in the whole process.
We used to have a Hindi teacher is KV Jabalpur. his teaching was always frilled by all quotes from great books.
He used to always say ” our main problem is that we get too lost in the process and loose sight of the objective. Always remember the process or the karma we perform is towards a particular objective if the objective is lost then the meaning of the process is lost”. probaly this explains why we remain unhappy inspite of having all comforts . somewhere on the way we have lost sight of the objectve and got too involed in the process.
Delighted to see your passion in this area. I have particularly liked your memories of your Hindi teacher.
To me it all boils down to DOING versus BEING.
DOING, which is Karma, leads to experiences, thoughts, emotions, hardening of beliefs. While the action part of DOING may be positive, this can also bring in a fair amount of emotional baggage. DOING or Karma can get linked to our EGO- our actions, achievements AND FAILURES.
However our BEING is that deep underlying essence- light and free of any drama, attachment or needs. BEING can be associated with STILLNESS and contemplation.
Love this blog Shakti…action in inaction…this has been our challenge for years, how to be in the flow, that ‘our’ actions should be in synchronicity with the Whole..
In practice and experience, we are learning that many a time, in meditative inaction we are automatically drawn into the ‘right’ action…This is never known in the moment, but only realized in the outcome, so is always a razors edge.
To quote You “Simply put, inaction occurs from a fear of the unknown, of leaving our comfort zone”, can I add that inaction can also come from the courage to encounter the unknown and respond to the moment ?
Have to post this Zen Koan and some lines from Wikipedia.
The Grass Grows By Itself”
( source Wikipedia )
“The literal meaning of wu wei is “without action”. It is often expressed by the paradox wei wu wei, meaning “action without action” or “effortless doing”}
In ancient Taoist texts, wu wei is associated with water through its yielding nature. Taoist philosophy proposes that the universe works harmoniously according to its own ways. When someone exerts their will against the world, they disrupt that harmony. Taoism does not identify one’s will as the root problem. Rather, it asserts that one must place their will in harmony with the natural universe. Thus, a potentially harmful interference is to be avoided, and in this way, goals can be achieved effortlessly. ”
In effortless doing and yielding like water.
miles n miles n miles to go in learning….
thanks much for this post Shakti…
Indeed gratified to see your comment. It reveals the place where your energy comes from. I need to acknowledge this.
What you term “meditative inaction” is essentially deep contemplation which allows you to visualise the road ahead and “make sense of it all.” It is but natural that the ‘right action’ would flow from this.
Thank you for elaborating on the Taoist philosophy. It indeed is helpful.
Cheers and God bless.
Having come to this juncture in life trying to understand the need if any for action or otherwise is the normal growth pattern of the intellect. You must read Shogun where the principal character subscribes to this theory, though he’s up and about and capable of action.
As the body ages and slowly is able to perform less and slower the thought as to the need for action is a self preserving phase of the psyche to maintain dignity of the self.
Reflection then brings to the fore many aspects indicating that the earlier youthful lust for action may have been driven by Harmones and excess energy rather than the real need to rush unthinking into action; though there are drivers for those actions at the then junctures of time; which may be the call of the moment.
To be able to see beyond the state that is if the action had not been taken , which of the many alternate paths would ” I ” have taken or the community or the ” World ” would have taken is the boon or bane if you would of an ageing and maturing self.
The answers are as varied as the seekers or questioners and depending on a vast majority of inputs having gone into the making of the individual will turn up different shades , all eqally correct – if there is such a thing- and valid to the individual seeker. In the end no matter which path you take if you keep going long enough , youll end up where you were, leading to the suspiciously convenient attitude of – had I kept still I would still be in the same Spot.
If I can take the liberty of adding to what you have said. As the body ages, the mind also morphs into the world’s philosopher!
WoW! What you have said does touch the innermost chords and in fact only revalidates what you said.Thank you for the insight, much appreciated.
As I reflect on your words, I seem to visualise the concept of conservation of action. So as one diminishes one’s “action” efforts, so does the effort from stillness (inaction) make up in a manner that the eventual effect of the effort remains same. As the Red Queen had remarked in Through the Looking Glass, “”Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.” I might just use this concept in a future blog!
Thank you again for your rather illuminating comments.
Excellent conceptualisation this (The Red Queen thingy ) of the fervent and frenetic mindless action we are forced into by the norms of life, and indeed take a herculean effort to be able to stand still.
Keep on standing still, still waters as they say et al.
Thank you Sanwal for your kind acknowledgement. The ability to stand still comes from a space of “lightness”, itself a product of a non-judgemental and positive mindset.
this is an awesome post that lead and reminds me things and aspects of being me that I need to be in balance, thanks for sharing this…
Thank you for your kind words and acknowledgement. Yes , I alos believe that in the scheme of things in the Universe, where every aspect is bipolar, balance remains the essense of sustainability.
Awesome post. I like to think of this as the importance of Being rather doing.
Thanks for the acknowledgement.
When you highlight the importance of “Being”, you have reached the core. In the Universe, everything gets created twice and with two sides. Therein lies the balance. So when you BE, you epitomise all aspects of who you are.Therein lies your greatness and emancipation.
Thanks for leading me here Shakti. As usual, this is certainly another great post. So be still, I suppose. !!!
I cherish your kind acknowledgement, Michael. Creation itself signifies two sides of everything.It all comes down to significance and alignment at any point in time.