The Best Advice I Was Ever Given
The best advice I was ever given by my spiritual teachers was a simple three step practice that can be done anywhere, any time by anyone:
- Fall still
- Remember who you are
- Give full attention to the matter in hand
That’s it. Fourteen words. And each of the actions – fall, remember, give - is easy, natural and doesn’t require excessive effort.
Let me give some background.
Many of you may know the outline of my story. Through my parents I found a spiritual path when I was nine years old and began meditating when I was ten. From that time I studied, meditated and practised under the guidance of some really great teachers. I got to ask questions, join in discussion groups and to meditate regularly.
I was introduced to the power and beauty of Sanskrit and knew I had been shown something extraordinary. I even found a husband, who is brilliant, funny and deeply interested in the same spiritual journey as me.
Together we were part of the team which began a children’s school based on the simple principle to give the children the best food, exercise and rest for their body, their mind, their heart and their spirit every day. And to put them in the company of teachers who walk the walk.
Eventually my husband was asked to become Headmaster and he in turn asked me to take up full time teaching. We worked together for nearly thirty years. When it became clear to me that my time as a teacher of children was coming to an end I trained as a life and executive coach. I got a website and I began using coaching techniques as well as many spiritual practices to help people with their lives.
One day I received an email out of the blue from Dr Pat Bacilli of Transformation Talk Radio in Seattle. She had seen my website, found it intriguing and wondered if I wanted to start a radio podcast. That’s how my ‘Conscious Confidence’ podcast began.
After a year or so of coaching and broadcasting Dr Pat said to me one day: “You know things that other people don’t know. You speak about spiritual wisdom in a way and with a depth that is very special. I think you should write a book about this.”
The result was my book Conscious Confidence: Use the Wisdom of Sanskrit to Find Clarity and Success, which came out in early 2020. And that has now led to an exciting new venture – Damayanti, For Your Soul: https://damayanti.store/
I’ve certainly led a full, happy and interesting life that has been supported and enriched by daily meditation and the practice of the three-step exercise: fall still; remember who you are; give full attention to the matter in hand.
Let’s look at each part of that simple practice.
1. Fall still
The key here is to bring yourself into the present moment, into the Now. This couldn’t be easier because your physical body is never anywhere else. While your mind can wander and your feelings can jump here and there, your physical body is always anchored in the present moment.
For example, you can see an advertisement on a bus for a holiday destination and you are immediately transported in your imagination to Hawaii. Maybe you then wander down memory lane to other holidays, and the people you met, and clothes they wore, and you remember you need to buy a new jacket, from a shop that has an odd logo. Your poor old body, which has been left without any adult supervision, is probably driving the car perfectly well, or navigating along a crowded footpath, waiting patiently for you to get back from Hawaii or wherever it is you’ve been taken by your wandering mind.
And your feelings join this merry romp, feeding you elation or despair, hopes or anxieties, nostalgia, guilt and bright ego-polishing triumphs. Again, this happens while the body is on auto-pilot avoiding oncoming traffic or looking out for the turn-off to your chosen destination.
So let’s take pity on our physical body and use it in a way for which it is perfectly designed.
To fall still and come into the Now, you simply connect with your body through the sense of touch. It is probably best to start by doing this while sitting in a chair with a minimum of distractions. Connect with your body. Its weight in the chair, the clothes and air on your skin. Then connect with smell, taste, sight and hearing.
The idea here is to enjoy simple sense experience. No over-thinking, naming, figuring or feeling. If the mind wanders off, and for most people this is inevitable, just come back to the body sitting in the chair.
Once you experience a degree of stillness, you stay resting in the awareness of the present, sitting in the chair, listening gently and letting thoughts come and go.
It is worth applying yourself to this practice two or three times a day for two or three minutes each time. Do this for a week and then try it while you are moving around at home or when you are out and about.
2. Remember who you are
The simple questions are often the most interesting and fruitful. Who am I? is one of these simple questions. We can begin to address this question by remembering an obvious fact: for observation to take place there must be an observer and a thing observed. And these two things must be separate from each other. So the basic rule here is: if you are the observer, you cannot be the thing you are observing.
So let’s ask again: Who am I?
Am I my physical body? I can observe my body, so I can’t be my body. My mind? I can certainly watch my thought processes, from the most superficial snatches of a song, to the reasoning process and my memories. My feelings? I am watching them all day! My hopes, my fears, my dreams, my loves, my irritations. It is a never-ending parade. I can certainly observe my mind and my feelings, and therefore I cannot be my mind or my feelings.
So again: if I am not my body, my thoughts or my feelings, who am I?
To give the obvious answer: you are the Observer. You are the one who is still, who is the unmoving watcher observing the moving play of body, mind and heart.
It is easy to articulate this answer. But it is quite another thing to know as a practical reality that you are this still watching observer. How can we come to this realisation? See practice number one – we start by falling still. Two or three times every day for two or three minutes at a time. This is the key that unlocks the doorway to inner awareness of yourself as the unmoving, still, peaceful watcher. It requires some degree of application and commitment but the pay-off is huge.
What about the third step?
3. Give full attention to the matter in hand.
This is where the rubber meets the road. Having fallen still, having remembered you are the witnessing observer, this third exercise is where you give your attention, your consciousness, to whatever you have in hand. The first two exercises will naturally build up your level of awareness. As a practical matter the less time spent in dreams about holidays in Hawaii, the more consciousness will be available to you. What are you going to do with it? A good option is to give it in the form of attention.
If you’re driving, you watch the road, the other cars, you feel the steering wheel in your hands and your body in the seat. If you are cooking, or working at the computer, or taking a walk, you attend to that activity.
If you are with other people you listen to them, respond to them, take them into account. Especially in the case of attending carefully to the people you’re with, it is just good manners to listen to them when they speak and to be awake and aware when you speak in turn.
While the first two exercises are a form of training or rehearsal, the third exercise is where you take it into your daily life. By giving your full attention to what you have in hand, you are giving your consciousness. That consciousness is not lost, it doesn’t evaporate. That conscious attention ensures whatever you are doing is done beautifully and carefully, and the people around you feel cared for and attended to.
What is the alternative? Instead of falling still, you move in a cycle of life’s ups and downs. Instead of remembering who you are, you forget yourself. Instead of giving your attention, you are absent while all the activities of the day take place without the benefit your full consciousness.
I was incredibly fortunate to meet amazing teachers who taught me such a simple and effective way to wake up and enjoy the world. My one desire is to share what I have been taught and I very much hope that you too will take up this practice and enjoy the benefits.