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Lions Roar : July 2015
still, be quiet, and pay attention. This practice sets up the condi- tions for revelation. What you have been longing for reveals itself, and you know that it has been there the whole time. This practice is simple, but it’s so easy to get distracted by all the busyness of our lives and of our minds. Stopping and being still doesn’t always seem possible. So we might decide that it’s a good idea to go somewhere and sit still with a bunch of other people. Silent, teacher-led medita- tion retreats are available in many places these days, and if you have ever attended one, you already know how powerful and challenging they can be. And you know how they can contribute to your own realization of the brilliant offerings of the world. But there is a problem with attending retreats. It’s what hap- pens when you leave. You may have had some kind of revelatory experience in the atmosphere of the silence and support of the other retreatants and teachers. You may even feel that you have been changed forever. But then you leave the retreat, and encoun- ter all those people who haven’t been quiet and still, who have been going about their regular lives. In the face of traffic, crowds, and noise, you may begin to romanticize your retreat experience and wish you could go back to that quiet, peaceful space. In Zen practice, we say that meditation retreats are one of the most effective ways to set up the conditions for waking up. But we also teach that it is possible to wake up in every moment. Because, after all, dharma gates are boundless. Opportunities for awakening are everywhere. They are not limited to retreat centers, monasteries, and temples. The to-do list on the fridge and the challenging situations at work are dharma gates, too. The anger in traffic, the argument with a loved one, the sadness, the longing—all of these are dharma gates. Practice in daily life is a more intense form of retreat practice, and endlessly rewarding. The first requirement for recognizing the boundless entry points to awakening is learning how to stop. Reminders to stop are everywhere, in the form of those lovely red octagonal signs that government workers place at intersections: STOP! Stopping Practice: Stop, Tune In, Open, Proceed For twenty years, I taught Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction at the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. One of the simplest tools we offered people who wanted to live more mindfully was the word STOP itself. Practicing with STOP allows us to have a tiny little mini-retreat right here, right now. Many people use stopping practice to help reduce stress and tension. The relief of stress can be a wonderful side effect of learning to recognize our awakened nature. For me, the power of stopping practice lies in its simplicity and adaptability to every situation. The first part of stopping practice is “S”: learning to actually stop. Whatever you are doing, thinking, or saying, alone or with others, you can always pause. You can stop for a moment, or for a longer period of time. Stopping is powerful, especially if you are busy and hassled. You can practice pausing throughout the day, turning it into a new habit. Maybe you can set a bell to ring on your computer, or put a little sticker on your phone that says, “STOP!” If you’re with other people, you can say, “Can we just take a little pause before we continue?” Or, “I just need a moment.” The next part, the “T,” stands for “take a breath,“ “take a moment,” or “tune in.” We breathe, pause, and remember we have a body, not just a busy mind. We directly and intimately encounter whatever is here, without judging it or needing it to be different. When the Buddha sat down and vowed to be still and quiet, his awakening revealed some universal truths to him. He real- ized that the main obstacle to seeing clearly is our wish for things to be different, our desire to fight reality. If things are PHOTOBYHÈLENA.VINK