“Cessation” is an important word in Buddhism, and it’s one that I like to define as the fading away of the sense of self. The sense of self fades away when we don’t attach to an experience. Cessation occurs when we learn to look at experience objectively.
For instance, if I’m becoming irritated while I’m talking with someone, I can notice my reactions as objects in the mind and feelings in the body. Just as I can notice changing weather patterns in nature, I can also notice the changing “weather” of the mind—that is to say, the changing inner patterns of emotionality, thought, and mood. If I don’t attach to the storyline, then I see that these habits of the mind are not ultimately real, but are part of changing patterns in nature.
But even more importantly, I notice the absence of a strong sense of “me” and “mine”; the sense of self has ceased. There’s still consciousness, presence, sight, sound, and so on. Now, however, things are simply the way they are and the mind is at ease.
At times, the inner reactions are very strong and enduring. In this case, it’s very helpful to return to mindfulness of the body. When you feel a strong emotion, just witness its effect on your body; don’t go to the narrative in your head. The sense of a self and all the “me” and “mine” thinking is what keeps the reaction bubbling away in consciousness. When you just stay with how that emotion feels in your body, the reaction fades away as does the strong sense of a self. As the reaction subsides of its own accord, we have the realization of cessation. So we see that these reactive tendencies are not a problem.
When we practice in these ways, we’ve begun our journey on the path to liberation. By practicing cessation, the mind is freed from toxicity. It’s liberated from its habits, from its compulsion to cling. The mind is not liberated through denying, or through getting rid of anything, or through indulging. It’s liberated through knowing experience as Dhamma.
This reflection by Ajahn Viradhammo is from the book, The Contemplative’s Craft, (pdf) pp.49-50.