With your favorite fly tied to your line, you approach the swirling and gurgling stream. The water flows smoothly, gracefully navigating around scattered rocks that contribute to the creation of delightful deep pools. You observe the water's dance, and identify potential casting spots. Mindful of your breath, you survey the surroundings and ensure ample clearance for your cast – a breath in as you pull the rod back, and a breath out as you release the line.
In this rhythmic motion, we witness the line and fly moving as if in slow motion. The delicate fly touches the stream, embraces the current, and gently submerges, floating through a bubbled surface. Here, we patiently watch, attuned to any subtle motions. Each of these moments possesses a unique significance, inviting us to pay attention. In each step and with every action lies the essence of "Stillness." This is the place that we want to be when we are fishing.
There's profound peace in simply observing the fly in the water. The act itself is what it is. In the right place, at the right time, with focused attention, I may witness the fish rise, or sense its subtle pull. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn't. Yet, this outcome is inconsequential. I return to my breathing, find my center, and embark on the process anew.
Have you ever found yourself in this mindful state? It surpasses the notion of simply being "in the zone"; it's a wondrous and life-affirming experience. While the desire for flawless tenkara technique is enticing, achieving stillness requires practice and mental preparation. Above all, it involves surrendering to and observing only what is directly in front of us – a skill greatly enhanced through meditation.
I can reflect on my own past experiences. There have been times when in my excitement to be on the water, I have rushed in like brute, casting without careful observation of my options. Each instance of neglecting to look behind me for back-cast room leading to moments of frustration, coaxing my fly from the trees or, worse, snapping my line. These actions stem from what my Buddhist teachers of the past call "desire mind" – a tendency to hastily push forward. Stillness is always there if we decide to look for it and be with it.
It's essential to clarify that "stillness" doesn't equate to being stationary or devoid of movement. When observing a peacefully flowing river, finer details may elude notice initially. Our minds propel us too swiftly, causing us to miss these subtleties, as if they don't matter. We inadvertently separate ourselves from the stillness that permeates our surroundings. Slowing down our minds so that we can notice there are no ordinary moments.
Stillness must be actively sought to be experienced. It exists everywhere, even in a bustling city, in traffic, or within a conversing crowd, and all we have to do to find it is to slow down, and see the chaos as a single thing we are a part of. Stillness begins within our minds, necessitating the quieting of that secondary voice within our heads. I promise you that it is right there waiting to be found. We are very capable of letting everything drop away. Athletes in large arenas talk of this all the time. From professional baseball pitchers on the mound to Olympic skiers. For us as tenkara anglers the crowds are much smaller. We have less to block out and perhaps more to take in. As we walk along a bank we can feel our feet, watch the water, and enjoy the fresh air. And all we have to do is try to keep your mind from interrupting. Simply said, but slightly challenging perhaps?
During my winter retreat from the backyard hermitage, I've become acutely aware of the part of my thinking that tends to divert my focus from the present moment. This inner voice, tempting and familiar, often emerges when I close my eyes during meditation, weaving a tapestry of "what ifs" and memories. In many ways, this aspect of our minds resembles a child, vying for attention. What can we do? We allow this mind to run free for a moment or two, and then gently guide it back to a focal point, perhaps assigning it the task of following our breath in and out, or focusing on what silence sounds like.
Finding stillness, whether by a stream, in a garden, at a computer, or in the company of others, is a collective endeavor. It involves being fully awake and connected to the present moment, forsaking regrets of the past or the relentless push towards the future. Those things exist in past and future and are not part of the present.
In a society that incessantly propels us forward, laden with the pressures of jobs, responsibilities, and the pursuit of elusive dreams – all antithetical to stillness – we must consciously resist. Life compels us to be somewhere other than where we are, often at the expense of savoring the simple joys of a good meal or quality time with loved ones.
Stillness has become the primary focus now of my practice. Being present to observe everything in my immediate place of attention, the world slows down and all of those moving parts become part of the greater picture. We realize soon enough that everything is moving, and that “stillness” happens inside our minds when that second voice is quiet. We become part of all the things in front of us and we understand our place.
Take a moment each day to find silence, and to just observe the world in front of you. Feel your feet under you, feel the air, see the colors, and watch life in motion. I hope that you pursue this practice of stillness and learn to embrace it with every part of yourself.