What does it feel like to pay attention to stopping? What is that experience of stopping and ceasing the compulsion to become, the engagement of mental activity and mental impulse? This includes stopping unskillful activity as well as recognizing where it all originates so that we can still be engaged and put forth effort and be attentive to duties and responsibilities we have. But we really bring in an attitude of stopping and ceasing, whether it’s frantic obsession or worry and fear or competition or aversion.
We recognize how much activity tends to sweep us up and pull us into movement, activity, restlessness, agitation. We lose our centers. Through the conscious act of stopping and recollecting, particularly internally—in the mind—we learn how to keep stopping the mind, stopping the flow of thoughts that are proliferating, stopping the flow of moods that get drawn into either attraction or aversion. We return to a clear center, to awareness.
We don’t necessarily do this just by conceiving an idea such as, “I’m going to be mindful,” or “I’m going to be aware.” We do it by learning how to stop. Exercise the ability to stop and develop the sense of bringing things to a point of stillness inside.
Sometimes we need to actually stop what we’re doing physically, just step back and recollect, in order to create a break in that flow of activity. But the main thing is to reflect on the fact that what we’re doing is internal. How much of the time do we just get picked up, carried off and swept away by a thought or a mood? We need to stop, not get drawn into the movement of a thought of aversion, of irritation. But just one little seed gets planted, and the ball of becoming starts rolling. It starts moving, and pretty soon we have worked ourselves into a state of anger or a state of getting into conflict. That’s what we become. In the same way, greed or desire begins with a thought of liking, interest, fascination, and then the becoming ball starts rolling.
We know how to become but we don’t know how to stop. We’re not used to stopping. Stopping is the practice of learning how to take the points of when you feel the mind moving and proliferating and coming back to a place of awareness. That’s where you can actually attend to what you’re thinking and what you’re intending to do. We take that as an exercise, work with it and play with it. Ask yourself, “What happens when I do stop? Does that mean I’m dysfunctional and that I can’t actually do anything at all?” You will see that if you actually stop and stand in awareness, you’ll be able to accomplish things a lot more skillfully.
This reflection by Ajahn Pasanno is from On Becoming and Stopping, pp. 25-29.