The Stop Technique: A Type of Meditation
Starting to Stop
by Jerry Dorsman (excerpted from How to Achieve Peace of Mind)
All motion in this world has its origin in something that is not motion.
We live our lives in continuous motion. Like waves in the ocean, we move without interruption from one posture to the next, each posture flowing into the other without pausing. And we do this day in, day out, remaining active each day until we fall to sleep at night.
Yet what’s really happening? Our activity is part of us but it’s on the periphery. It’s on the outside part of us, the part that interacts with the world. It is through our actions that we connect ourselves to the world.
In this sense, our activity takes us from our center, unless we can remain totally meditative in what we do. Even when the activity is slight, such as breathing, eye movements (while reading a book or watching TV), and muscle twitches, it happens apart from our center.
In meditation, we often focus on breathing because breathing happens inside of us and helps us to move toward our center. But the activity of breathing is still not the center.
Activity implies doing. Activity is motion. At the center, there is no motion. At the center is being. Activity, even the activity of thinking or breathing, takes us away from this center. Our true center, which we can find by meditating, is located somewhere behind our breathing and below our thinking.
But the body and the mind have been conditioned to non-stop motion, to go through life in constant activity, to living at the periphery of ourselves, not the center. When we practice techniques to stop ourselves in our tracks, we glimpse the center.
How does this work? All of our motion, all of our activity, is driven by energy. Because energy cannot be destroyed, it continues even when we stop our motion. Where does it go? It goes within. It lights up the center.
George Gurdjieff, who studied many spiritual traditions, became a spiritual leader himself in the 1930’s and 1940’s. He attracted a broad following of students who used his methods to attain inner peace and a deeper spiritual connection to life. One method Gurdjieff used was a “stop” technique. Occasionally he would yell “Stop” and everybody would freeze. If you were talking, you stopped your mouth in whatever sound you were forming. If your eyes were open, you kept them open, not blinking. If you were walking and had one foot off the ground, you kept it off the ground and maintained your pose.
Give it a try
When you stop in mid-activity like this, something happens. You feel the energy of your action as if the action were continuing. As if witnessing it from a distance, you see the activity for what it really is. Maybe the activity gets you from one place to another. Maybe it helps you to accomplish something. You may see the activity as harmful or you may see it as essential to your survival.
But activity is not all you are. Some part of you is based in non-activity, non-action. This is your center, the part of you that you know the least. The center remains peaceful and calm, undisturbed and undisturbable. Just a glimpse of it can instantly bring you peace.
Here are two techniques. The first offers a list of ideas to get you started. The second is a specific Tantric sutra that you can use to go to your center.
1. The stop command. It’s helpful when someone else tells you to stop. The command then comes unexpectedly. When you have to think about telling yourself to stop, your mind must enter. When it comes from someone else, you have no say in the matter.
- Use the stop command with someone at home. Have a friend, a lover, or even a child yell, “Stop” every so often. Then you stop.
- Use a clock that chimes every 15 minutes. As soon you hear the tone, stop whatever you’re doing. (Don’t watch the clock in order to plan your pose. Your stopping must happen spontaneously, or else you’ll gain nothing.}
- Join a Gurdjieff study group, sometimes called Ouspensky/Gurdjieff study group or Ouspensky Meetup Groups. (P.D. Ouspensky helped organize Gurdjieff’s methods into a system.)
2. The Tantric method. The sutra is as follows: “Just as you have the impulse to do something, stop.”
Let’s look at a simple impulse first. Say you have an impulse to satisfy your thirst. What do you do? You get a glass, fill it with water, take it to your lips, and drink. You can tell yourself stop anywhere along the way and, ceasing your activity will temporarily halt your impulse to satisfy your thirst.
Now consider the stop. You can say it silently or you can say it aloud. But as soon as you say it, stop completely. Don’t blink an eye. Don’t breathe. Don’t move a muscle. Also be sure to stop abruptly. The water in the glass may slosh around from an abrupt stop, but you will not move. With practice, you can stop your activity spontaneously at any time. To stop spontaneously: Whenever you suddenly feel the urge, stop at once.
Clearly, each stop ends when you cannot hold your breath any longer. So each may last from twenty seconds to a minute. When you need to breathe again, do so, and simply resume your activity as if it had never been interrupted.
But notice now your newfound appreciation for this activity. Notice what happens to you. Watch how the stop technique instantly takes you to your center. Immediately, upon stopping, you can see your activity as if it were a whirlwind swirling around a tranquil and motionless center. Then, when you resume your activity, you’ll feel more at one with it, more settled with it, and more calm.
You can use this technique with simple impulses. For example, when you drop something on the floor, you may have the impulse to pick it up. If so, you can stop yourself anywhere in the motion and realize an instant change in perspective.
In addition, you can use this technique with some powerful impulses, such as the impulse to yell at somebody, the impulse to have sex, or the impulse to take an addictive substance. These impulses are strong. It’s hard to stop in the middle of sex. It’s hard to halt some anger that causes you to yell. If you’re addicted to sugar, drugs, or alcohol, it’s hard to say no. But when you do stop such powerful impulses, the energy is magnificent and will take you deep inside yourself. Just be sure that you’re not judging the behavior. If you think of an impulse as good or bad, the stop technique will not work. That is because your mind enters. When your mind enters, it consumes the energy when you stop by thinking about how good or bad the impulse was, or how difficult or important it was to stop.
To use these powerful impulses, consider your anger, sexual desire, or addictive craving as a form of pure energy. In no case is the energy good or bad. What you do with the energy may be good or bad, but the energy itself is neutral. Let it be. Simply watch where it goes when you stop.
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Jerry Dorsman is the coauthor of How to Achieve Peace of Mind. He also is the author of two books on breaking addictions: How to Quit Drinking Without AA and How to Quit Drugs for Good.
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