Activity vs Stillness

Questioner: Ever since I started practicing mindfulness, I really enjoy sitting and looking out into outer space, looking at the sky, birds, and clouds. I find that when I am in that state, I feel very light and peaceful. When normally, I go looking for other experiential activities such as learning this to do that to gain experience and understandings. Then I’ll stumble and fall back to an usual state like this.

Are the experiences lessons for me to look back and appreciate more those moments when I relax and watch the sky and clouds, not being hustled and attracted by something?


You are looking for an explanation for “sometimes I sit quietly and watch the sky, watch the clouds, be at peace, sometimes I’m looking for hands-on learning experiences”, and you are thinking that these experiences happened so that you are appreciative about the quiet and still moments.

It’s still just a story, it is still the tendency to want to string everything together to tell a story. You till want this to be related to that, the story is like this and that in order to answer the phenomena that you encounter.

A story is just a story. It’s like the wind, does not always have the same color, sometimes the wind is like a storm, sometimes it’s light, sometimes it’s faint, sometimes it burns the skin. The phenomena that we perceive, such as when we are dumbfounded or suddenly interested in learning something, all of these are different phenomena and the variety of phenomena is what we experience. They do not mean to tell you: “Look! That this is better, this is not as good..”. Similarly, sitting still is not better, nor being active is less good. Those are just the story you are trying to tell yourself.

But the problem is, when there are different inner programmings that deviate from reality, and when there are many people out there with different types of programmings, none of them live in the present, all are living in different realms and dreams, with their own ideals and rules. Then when interacting with each other, the more intimate and closer they are, the more opportunity their “ideals” will reveal that what we believe is right, it is not ideal. Then, it has the opportunity to show that these ideals and dreams are in conflict with reality. Now these ideals and dreams are shattered and broken, and then only the dreamer would sit back to contemplate.

When observing and being insightful, you don’t have to sit in a quiet place to see things as they are or to be able to contemplate it. In fact you can be active and do anything in your awareness.

Sometimes you may like to sit quietly, sometimes you may like to be gentle, sometimes you may like to be alone, sometimes you may like to go for a walk, to run, to party, to draw, to read books, or to meditate.. All of these are diverse phenomena that urge inside. It is like a leaf, the leaf shakes sometimes because of the strong wind, sometimes it’s drooping, sometimes it wilts because of the sun, sometimes it is jubilant because of the rain, all of these are catalysts for the exchange of different energies and you experience those energies.

It can be temporarily said that life is expressed through you. It manifests through you in different ways: if you don’t want to do anything, you sit in one place, then you find that you like going to the gym or to be active, then that energy is expressed through you in the form of gym and activities. It has no more story than that.

And why many times you have conflicts and problems, feel broken, feel confused, miserable or angry in your heart? These things have nothing to do with whether you sit in one place or I you are active, but they are related to your mind programmed to think you have to be like this, life has to be like that, other people have to be like such, life has to be this way… These are different types of programmings, beliefs, and prejudices that have existed for a long time.

Sitting in stillness and being alone can also bring out a lot of “horrors” that one can feel. For example, as Vietnamese people say “when idle, unwholesome action takes place”. When one is idle and has nothing to do, then one suddenly feel the urge to be unwholesome, because one has to deal with a lot of own programmings that he has been too busy to face for so long. These programmings now start biting and making him feel unbearable and want to do something to escape. That feeling of restlessness and brokenness can appear at any time. It’s our past programmings, it’s our prejudices, it’s the signs that show us we’re still clinging to something, relying on something, imposing that things must be this or that way. These programmings appear not to remind you to sit back.

If you like to sit, then sit. If you like to do activities in mindfulness, then do. The key here is not about doing something or not doing anything, but the key is in witnessing, seeing and knowing. The key is in observing and knowing the phenomena, such as rain, sun, wind, movement or stillness, that we are experiencing. That’s it, no more stories.

TN Dan takes notes from the video “Suchness Conversation” with Phan Y Ly

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