The Radical Art of Stopping

Reflections on rediscovering life in the present moment

We live in a society overdriven by high volume doing, training our nervous system in the habits of stopping and pausing is a radical act of reclaiming our freedom and dignity.

When I stop I become aware of what’s around me and I re-discover the present moment. It may have been hours, days or even months (if not years) that I may have had the experience of really stopping and being in the present moment. Being there to notice and to pay attention to what I am surrounded by, feel my body and through this, experiencing intimate moments of peace and connection.

This may sound simplistic, but for many of us, most of our time is spent running in one direction or another. Chasing or trying to meet goals and objectives that seem to be always in the future, never here, never now. The implication, then, is that most of our life is spent somewhere in the future. If not lost in some kind of regret over the past or irritation and frustration in the present, always trying to achieve those future goals.

Many years ago, I was working as a painter decorator with some close friends of mine. Work was always very stressful affair. We were always in a constant rush to cover as many meters of surface with paint in the shortest time possible to make sure we got enough margin of profits and not incur any losses (we were paid by the square meter)

One morning we were painting on a balcony overlooking the beautiful Mediterranean Sea when I suddenly noticed the sun rising. I stopped what I was doing to contemplate it. It was amazing, truly beautiful! All my senses begun to be filled with the experience of seeing the sun rising over the horizon over the sea. It felt like the sun was actually rising inside of me! It was like suddenly all my senses “turned on” and I could hear the sounds around, the smells, the light coming in through my eyes. It made me feel peaceful, connected with a quality of deep quiet satisfaction and completeness.

None of my friends (we were 4) noticed it, even that it was right there, in front of all of us. They were all busy working. The sunrise may as well have been invisible to them as they were so absorbed in their work. The whole experience of stopping to see the sunrise was just 5 or 6 minutes, but for me it made a big change, a change in priorities.

In that moment I felt clearly that it was more important to live experiences with all my body and soul (like seeing the amazing sunrise over the ocean) That it was more important to have moments of being genuinely alive, rather than rushing my existence to a goal that its always set in the future.

This is not to say that we all should become hippies and live a life of leisure and pleasure, and not accomplish any goals or work in life. That could be an extreme (I do think we all could do with a more relaxed and satisfied life) but the other extreme would be to never know how to stop to experience and live the beauty around us.

Following that train of thought, my question then would be: what direction is our life going to? Is it important to ask ourselves these questions?

A woman called Bronnie Ware who worked in palliative care, wrote a deeply touching book titled: The Top five Regrets of the Dying .What stunned me most was regret number #2 “I wish didn’t work so hard”
This was exactly what my father told me before he passed away. My father spent most of his life working so hard, but for what? Sadly, he died from heart failure at the age of 55.

Nearly 30 years after having left my painter decorator job, I feel very happy I didn’t remain there working so hard for some kind of goal in the future.

I am so happy that I was able to stop! That the sunrise called to me and encouraged me to stop. That my hearts longing to live fully called me to stop and be, and live life more fully.

Now mindfulness is helping me to stop, as “stopping” is actually a mindfulness practice. Our minds are a little like puppies or monkeys, always busy going in one direction or another, never stopping to feel the moment in all its fullness. Or incapable to receive this present moment’s intimate and wonderful message that life is here for living. That’s why mindfulness practice is considered “a training” as we practice mindfulness to train our hearts and minds to stop and live in the present moment.

Let’s us not wait to live more fully until we are at our death bed, when it will be a bit too late!

Mindfulness practice offers us the door of stopping so we can go through the threshold that takes us from being disconnected from life to begin our journeys of being intimate with life once more, as we may have been as children.

The sunrise is there, calling for you to be present once more.

Enjoy an experience of stopping with a guided deep relaxation from Michael. This is a practice of stopping all our doing, lying down to connect with our body and releasing all accumulated tension. Taking time to do this every day is a very simple and effective way of bringing more ease and balance into our nervous system.

Posted by

Michael Schwammberger

Michael been practising mindfulness and meditation since 1992. Most of his training took place in Plum Village, Thich Nhat Hanh's centre in France. He has been facilitating mindfulness and meditation retreats since 1997 as a Buddhist monk and as lay since 2012. He has helped in creating and running various mindfulness programmes in the UK and Spain.