Tranquil Sitting – the art of effortless being
Laozi’s view on Tranquil Sitting is really quite simple and can be summed up in just a few words – return to stillness and Dao will be revealed. It sounds simple and may feel intuitively right, but it’s not easy. This return to stillness involves a fundamental letting go of all the strategies we have developed to deal with our experience in life which are mainly defensive and controlling and don’t allow us to embrace the present moment. Laozi leaves the cultivation nameless, he does not define or confine it into a linear method which would dilute its original clarity and spontaneity.
Although the term Tranquil Sitting does not appear in the Daode jing, it has been adopted by Daoists as it conveys the very essence and the view of cultivation. Its presence is implicit in many of the chapters of the Daode jing. It is here, in Laozi’s poetic style, that Tranquil Sitting enters awareness not as something to be done but something arising of itself, naturally and effortlessly.
There is a wonderful Chinese poem that describes this well:
“sitting quietly in non-doing, spring comes and grass grows by itself”
This state of open presence is not brought about by our willpower or deliberate effort but is our natural condition – revealed when we allow things to settle and return to stillness.
When we look at what Laozi has to say on cultivation it becomes clear he also holds the view of a natural unfolding, a returning to our original condition of wholeness. This is process-orientated rather than goal-orientated (where one defining experience is held above all other experiences).
Essential to this cultivation is wuwei – non-doing. In its true sense it is not a method of practice that would imply something to do, but a state of being that is revealed when all our compulsive ‘doing’ activity abates.
This is not easy because we identify so strongly with thoughts and emotions. They enforce the sense of a personal identity that we firmly hold on to. The urge to control both our inner and outer environment is deeply rooted and when we enter meditation the conditioning and the compulsion to act still arise in us and make it difficult for us to be openly present.
Another quality that is crucial to the practice is cultivating the capacity to observe in a clear and effortless way, free from the struggle to control what is arising. Gradually qualities of trust, non-reaction and clear observation arise and the continuous stream of thoughts and emotions begins to settle down and return to stillness. The qi that has been caught up in the mind’s compulsive activity is released and in response to our aligned posture gathers in the space of true stillness, the dantien -a process that is natural and effortless.
This brings a sense of balance and tranquillity to the whole mind-body process. It allows the cultivation to be led and informed by our organic qi level of experience which is intuitive, open and responsive.
This is the unique quality of Tranquil Sitting which reflects what is innate in all of us and can bring a deep sense of trust and intimacy with the Dao.