“We have to learn the art of stopping — stopping our thinking, our habit energies, our forgetfulness, the strong emotions that rule us…When we are mindful, touching deeply the present moment, the fruits are always understanding, acceptance, love, and the desire to relieve suffering and bring joy.” Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching.
I discovered The Honolulu Mindfulness Community back in 2003, after completing my Master’s program in Counseling Psychology. My favorite professor had introduced me to the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, and after graduation I went on a search for like minded folks.
Over the next 3 years, I practiced meditation daily and listened to dharma talks given by Thich Nhat Hanh, his monks and nuns, and members of the Order of Interbeing. My deepening understanding and practice of mindfulness took me through a major career change, marital problems and my father’s death in 2004 as well as a huge move from Hawaii to Texas. It has continued to support me through the many ups and downs of the last 15 years.
The most important thing that I learned was this: Stop.
And while you’re at it, Breathe.
Don’t get me wrong. I learned a lot of other things. I learned more about compassion and understanding, deep listening, and cultivating joy. It was ALL good. And without learning to stop and to breathe (consciously), none of the rest was really possible because I was too busy. Busy running around….in the world and in my mind. I was busy (sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously) trying to rewrite the past, anticipate the future, and judge the present moment. I couldn’t be (mentally) still long enough to get to the finer things in life. I was in a constant state of reaction.
I am certainly not perfect at Stopping. My mind runs on Autopilot often. I catch myself jumping back in time and trying to fix what’s already happened or flying into the future, pretending that I have a crystal ball that just needs to be tilted the right way. I catch myself hating my body, thinking that someone should be better than they are, and speeding down the highway like I own it.
The key word is, CATCH.
My years with The Honolulu Mindfulness Community, along with my study of Soto and my Yoga practice have given me a nearly automatic STOP button. It’s not always pushed in, but because I’ve practiced, I can engage that button pretty quickly and jump back to reality from whatever place in the past, the future or in the Judge’s quarters I might be.
It’s a gift.
Stopping allows me to come back to my Self. It allows me to re-engage with my values, with my Body, and with the real world as it actually exists. Learning to Stop is one of the greatest skills I’ve learned in my life. It is the first tool in my toolbox; I don’t know what I would do or where I’d be without it.