Tag Archives: self observation

Stop! Really Stop

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Can you really stop? I mean really stop – not just physically but mentally also?

Say for instance, you are walking and you decide to stop and you stop. That only means your body stopped moving. What about your mind, your thoughts? Did they also stopped? Let’s take another example. You are reading this sentence. And I ask you to stop reading. STOP!

 

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What did you notice? Different people might notice different things. Some would have tensed up and started to stare at the word STOP!. Some would have gone blank for a few moment before their thoughts started to flow again. Some would have started moving their eyes around and maybe scrolled down to read further. Some would have started to hear sounds around them or started to feel some sensations in their bodies which were blocked out from consciousness because all the attention was on reading. This is an important observation if you noticed it. Try it again. Go back to the beginning of the post and do it again.

As we get engrossed into our tasks, our attention starts to get focused on the activity and the stream of thoughts (relevant to the task or not relevant). Simultaneously, the inputs from our bodily sensations and the sounds around us are filtered out. Muscles are tensed, even those which are not used in the activity. For instance, if you are working on a computer screen, comfortably sitting on a chair, yet if you notice, your leg muscles are tensed up for no reason.

What does it mean to stop? We really do not experience the state of a full stop because the mind is constantly throwing up thoughts and is literally pushing us around, even if the body is stationary. A mind that is constantly moving is not a happy state of mind. But that’s what is the situation for everyone. Where is the problem?

It is just that some people have reported that there is a state of mind in which there is complete stillness, and when there is complete stillness of the mind, you will experience bliss. So this revelation causes many other people to seek this still/blissful state of mind. Unfortunately, they end up increasing the velocity of their thoughts through this very seeking even if they are sitting absolutely still in meditation. It is not that these people are seeking a mirage. In moments of wonder, for instance when one comes across a breathtaking landscape or some other natural scenery, one’s thoughts are blown away for some time and one experiences that stillness of mind and the accompanied bliss. But it is obviously not possible to experience that bliss/that stillness in the cacophony of a honking traffic jam. Is it really so?

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When Angulimala saw a monk walking in the forest, he thought to himself, “Ah, with his little finger, I will finally be able to get my hundredth finger”. As the story goes, he started running after the monk but even though the monk was walking, Angulimala could not catch him. Tired after a long run, Angulimala called out – Stop. Hey monk. Stop. How come I am running and you are walking and yet I am unable to catch you?. The Buddha replied, “I have stopped long back. It is you who are moving.” That struck a chord somewhere in Angulimala’s mind and he bowed down to the Buddha and the story goes on.

The stopping here refers to the stopping of the seeking mind – the mind that is constantly fluttering like a butterfly from one thing to another.

In this sense, we never really stop. Since the time we are born and since the time the first thoughts come to our minds, they have never really stopped. Even when we are so to say relaxing on a beach or while listening to our favorite music, the mind is constantly latching on to something. And when the mind is doing that, we are living as if in an automatic mode, like a self-driving car controlled by various signals and you are just the passenger who is busy with his work.

Have you played the game of Statue (aka Freeze) in your childhood? In this game, one child calls out “Statue” and all the other children have to literally freeze in whatever position they are in till the time they are relieved. There is even a musical freeze version in which music is played and everyone dances. As soon as the music stops, everyone has to freeze.

While these games are for fun, Gurdjieff designed an effective STOP exercise for the purpose of self-observation. As his students were working on the assigned activities, Gurdjieff would sneak in unannounced and say STOP. Everyone would have to freeze in the position they are in, without moving a muscle and simultaneously observe what they were thinking and observe any sensations in their bodies. The purpose of this exercise was to demonstrate how unconsciously we do our work and in effect begin to develop self-awareness in all positions at all times.

There is another story of a Zen master who would hit his student with a stick from behind while the student was walking, working, meditating, eating, and even while sleeping. The intention was to develop alertness. Initially the student was irritated by the teacher’s behavior but eventually he started to develop his awareness and one day, he instinctively caught the stick before the master could hit him.

So what is the moral of all this? Is it possible for you to be alert and aware in all that you are doing? This is only possible when your mind is still, even while working, while eating, while walking, while talking, while sleeping.

Here is a STOP exercise for your practice.

Just before you get on or get in your vehicle, stop for a few seconds, note what you have been thinking, note your posture, pay attention to your breathing, realize that you are present right here right now. Then continue where you are going.