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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. 

On My Stop List

I initially wrote a list of things to stop and found that some of them will require just that.  I will need to spend some time looking more deeply into the nature of why I do certain things in the first place.  In some cases, these stop intentions are one’s that I grew aware of in the past, yet they are still strong habit energies that I continue to struggle with.  In no particular order, some items on my list include:

  • Stop taking things personally, especially when it comes to people who don’t know me.
  • Stop trying so hard and investing time in people who don’t seem to care about you.
  • Stop making excuses for other people’s bad behaviors.
  • Stop giving your valuable time away unconsciously.  

There is far more on my STOP list yet don’t feel the need to publicly list each one.  I also felt the four that I listed were more than likely ones that are common to many people and not just myself.

A Closer Look

When I consider the occasions where I’ve taken things personally, I have learned quite a few things about it.  So far I have learned:

  • The more I like or love someone, the more I tend to take what they say and do personally.
  • I realized that there is little difference between a stranger and someone I love other than my own attachment to them. (in terms of taking things personally)
  • Whether someone is a complete stranger or someone I deeply care about, I have little control over their thoughts, feelings, and behavior.
  • Although I realize that my own words and actions may influence another person, I tend to take on too much responsibility for what doesn’t belong to me. I take on too much responsibility for what I have little to no control over.  It is a responsibility that primarily belongs to the other person.
  • If someone makes assumptions about me yet refuses to question or challenge their own assumptions, I need to stop taking responsibility for that. 
  • If someone has a bad day that has nothing to do with me, I don’t need to take this personally.
  • If someone projects their own character onto me and blames me for it, I don’t have to take this personally.  This is about them.
  • All that I have gleaned when it comes to others, also applies to me.  People don’t need to take things personally. 

The rest on my list will require further meditation and  the practice of looking deeply to understand the nature behind why I do certain things.  I also recognize that most of the things on my stop list are not going to be things I will be able to quit ‘cold turkey’ and never do again.  I realize that in order to be successful in stopping any of these, it will require that I cultivate a stronger level of mindfulness than I currently have.

And that’s OK!

Instead of feeling like a failure because I’m not perfect and haven’t ‘arrived’, I can accept myself as I am in this moment.  A person in progress who has an open heart that is willing to keep learning and growing.

And this is exactly how I see each one of you.  Above all, I wish the year 2015 to 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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