Posts Tagged ‘American culture’

Abstract Stop

Quest 2015
Theme Day 5


The next visionary guide in our Quest 2015 series is Charlie Gilkey.  He is the founder of Productive Flourishing, a company dedicated to providing resources for Creative Giants in motivating them towards action.  He’s also the best-selling author of The Small Business Life Cycle.

Here’s what Charlie provided as the prompt for today’s theme:

“Pursue knowledge, daily gain. Pursue Tao (wisdom), daily loss.” – Tao Te Ching*

We often think too much about adding new things, when the source of a lot of our growth is eliminating old things.

What do you need to STOP doing in 2015?

And what do you need to do to make that STOPPING more than an intention?

Attribution: Derek Lin’s translation of the Tao Te Ching


Recently, I read a wonderful piece of poetry by one of my favorite authors and poets, David Whyte,  It is called Sometimes; a selection from his book, River Flow: New and Selected Poems.

Many of David’s poems resonate with me, especially when he incorporates anything to do with forests and woods into his writing.  I live in the Pacific Northwest; a beautiful piece of country located west of the Cascades, filled with evergreens, mountains, lakes, and rivers of all shapes and sizes. Nestled in a bit of a valley, I’m located between Mt. Hood in Oregon,  and about a half an hours drive to the base of Mt. St. Helens volcano in the state of Washington.  Although I tell myself I can do without the near constant rain we endure most of the year, I need only take one look around this breathtaking landscape to know that if it wasn’t for the curse of so much rain, I wouldn’t be blessed with its evergreen beauty!


As a tree lover, it is easy to imagine myself wandering into the wood of David’s forest.  Walking carefully upon the patchwork quilt of leaves blanketing the earth until I reach that sacred spot David describes with brevity and finesse:

…you come
to a place
whose only task

is to trouble you
with tiny
but frightening requests,

conceived out of nowhere
but in this place
beginning to lead everywhere…

Forest Pause

When I first read the prompt on stopping, I could feel an initial urgency and rush to quickly list everything that comes to mind on what I need to stop in life.  This autopilot obedience has become such a strong part of western culture that my body has progressively become more allergic to it.  In some ways, literally.

One part of my mind wants to hurry up and tally my list so I can check off another task as completed for the day. Another part of me recognizes this tendency as more of an anxiety-laden list of ‘thou shoulds and should nots’ that seem to riddle much of our lives on a daily basis.  It’s as if our worth consists primarily of how long all of our lists are; and we seem to confuse these lists with actually getting ‘somewhere‘ or accomplishing ‘something‘.

Perhaps it’s merely busy work….the kind that keeps us on a treadmill of doing and avoiding that prevents us from seeing and tending to what is most important. Or what would be of most value and quality to not only our own lives but to all those we come in contact with…

Chaotic Western Culture

All this nagging anxiety led me to remembering the most important component of all; that in order to contemplate the ‘what’ I need to stop in my life, I need to be able to stop in the first place.

One of my favorite modern day teachers is Thich Nhat Hanh; a zen Buddhist monk.  Many of you may already be familiar with him and may have read some of his books.  Although I don’t consider myself to be a Buddhist, I was attracted to the sincerity, humility, and simplicity of his message. In his book, The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching, I learned some bare essentials of two concepts or terms of Buddhist meditation; shamatha and vipashyana. The latter term, vipashyana, refers to looking deeply into the nature of something.  And this is the main task we are given when it comes to figuring out just what it is we may need to stop doing.

The Practice of Stopping

It occurred to me that we try to do all of this looking deeply without actually stopping much of anything at all.  Our culture seems to fall more in alignment with an old biblical saying that has to do with swallowing camels and straining out gnats!  We bite off far more than we can adequately chew and digest, leaving us bearing little if any quality fruit. It’s often more about busy work and noisy data than value and quality.  And this leads me to the first aspect of Buddhist meditation; shamatha.

In a nutshell, shamatha basically means the practice of stopping.

Thich Nhat Hanh shared that we aren’t able to gain any insight if we are unable to stop.  He illustrates his point by sharing a popular Zen story about a man and his horse.

‘The horse is galloping quickly, and it appears that the man on the horse is going somewhere important.  Another man, standing along side the road shouts, “Where are you going?” and the first man replies, “I don’t know! Ask the horse!”  This is also our story.  We are riding a horse, we don’t know where we are going, and we can’t stop.  The horse is our habit energy pulling us along, and we are powerless.  We are always running, and it has become a habit.  We struggle all the time, even during our sleep.  We are at war within ourselves, and we can easily start a war with others.’

Having the awareness or mindfulness to STOP in the first place is number one on my list of stop intentions. As seemingly simple as this seems to be, it hasn’t been, at least not for me.  I have gained a greater appreciation and understanding into why Buddhists rely on the sound of a bell every hour.  It is to help them stop what they are doing; to stop their thinking, to focus on their breath so they can be present in the here and now.

I consider it to be a great challenge for many of us who were born and raised in American culture.  And that’s not to say that I consider the eastern hemisphere as BETTER than us, I simply consider their practice of mindfulness to be a strength that we would be wise to learn and practice ourselves.  We all have gifts to share with one another and learning the practice of stopping and being mindful is one of them.

This brings me to the latter part of David’s poem, ‘Sometimes’.

In the second half of his poem, he moves on to share the request the sacred space makes of each of us.  He is basically inviting us to do the same thing as taught by Buddhist monks; to practice shamatha.  The practice of stopping.

…Requests to stop what
you are doing right now,

to stop what you
are becoming
while you do it…

Only when we have an awareness or have become mindful, will we be able to heed the request to stop.

I want to remember to stop what I’m doing throughout my days.

I want to be able to stop long enough to feel present within my own body.

I want to be able to stop and be fully present with my children when they need me.

With my friends when they call.

With my family members when visiting.

I don’t want to have my body physically present in one location while my mind is scattered across time and space between the past and the future…anywhere but in the present where NOW is the only time I have to make decisions that impact that future.

Can you stop what you are becoming while you do it?

This question is so fitting for those of us living in this modern age; where the holy grail is constantly out of one’s grasp.  It is about becoming someone else rather than recognizing who you already are.  It is about going somewhere else instead of being where you already are.  It’s about grand ambitions and achievements that reek of ‘only THEN will you have finally arrived’…you will finally be ‘enough’.

And deep down in our tired, aching bones, don’t we already KNOW that it’s a lie?  If we don’t, I have a feeling we would if we would heed this call to stop….to stop long enough to look deeply.

It’s the Question That Drives Us
~The Matrix


These questions lead us to the end of David’s poem called ‘Sometimes’.

that can make
or unmake
a life,

that have patiently
waited for you,

that have no right
to go away…

These are the questions that are at the heart of this prompt.  Once we know how to stop, we can then consider WHAT, exactly, we need to stop.  And this requires us to cultivate the ability and concentration to look deeply into the nature of our own habits. 

What’s On Your Stop List?

 It is my sincere wish this upcoming year will be filled with plenty of love and grace for each of us.

‘The wind and the horse propel us.  The horse by effort and the wind by grace.’
~Old Tibetan Saying


Happy New Year!!!


One last thing!  Below I have listed links to many fellow Questers who have been participating in Quest 2015.  Be sure to check out what other people have been learning about themselves on their own quests!

Note: All images except where indicated (2nd photo is under creative commons license) are from Pexels.com

 Additional Related Resources

Quest 2015 Theme Day 1:  Living Connections by Samantha Hall

Quest 2015 Theme Day 2: In Search of Serendipity by Samantha Hall

Quest 2015 Theme Day 3: Dare To Disappoint by Samantha Hall

Quest 2015 Theme Day 4: The Heart Leaps by Faith by Samantha Hall

Your Life Quest: Create. Curate. Conflict by Jon Mertz

Your Life Quest: Doing. Stopping. Feeling by Jon Mertz

Just Quit by Stan Stewart

Stop, Drop, Roll in 2015? by Ginny Lee Taylor

Make A Stop Doing List by Steve Keating

Stop Filing It Away by Molly Morrissey

Stop, Look, and Listen by Mark Horn

Stop What You Are Doing by Nancy Laulicht Seibel

Stop by Lauren McLean Ayer

Stopping to Start by Tania Pryputniewicz

What Are You Willing To Stop Doing In 2015? by Suzi Banks Baum

Stop Being Nice by Vanessa J Herald

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