After we step again and look at the workings of the thoughts—not solely the contents of thought however the method of pondering itself—what do we discover? A relentless, self-generating stream of phrases, pictures, reminiscences, tales; or repetitive loops of worries, plans, regrets, wishes. We additionally come to see that we’re not controlling our ideas, and even in any intentional approach truly pondering them. They’re simply taking place—and taking place in response to deeply grooved patterns. In his 2009 ebook The Clever Coronary heart, Jack Kornfield writes:
Simply because the salivary glands secrete saliva, the thoughts secretes ideas. The ideas suppose themselves. This thought manufacturing will not be dangerous, it’s merely what minds do. A cartoon I as soon as noticed depicts a automobile on a protracted western desert freeway. A roadside signal warns, “Your individual tedious ideas subsequent 200 miles.”
Meditation permits us each to watch our habits of thoughts and to expertise moments of spaciousness—breaks within the incessant stream of thought, relaxation stops alongside that 200-mile stretch of freeway. Poetry presents one other highly effective method to disrupt the recurring momentum of the thoughts, its computerized reactions and obsessive self-concerns.
To totally enter a poem, we should first cease and step away from the extra instant calls for of life and have interaction in an imaginative exercise that has no apparent sensible worth. Extra importantly, we should shift out of our on a regular basis consciousness—the speedy thoughts wrapped in its self-centered tales and projections. Poets assist us expertise this stopping. Certainly, a poet could also be outlined as one who stops, one who’s inclined by temperament and coaching to step out of the continuing stream of expertise and have a look at it, and to assist us do the identical.
Robert Frost’s most well-known poem is an ideal instance of the fantastic thing about stopping.
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Night
Whose woods these are I believe I do know.
His home is within the village, although.
He won’t see me stopping right here
To look at his woods refill with snow.
My little horse should suppose it’s queer
To cease with no farmhouse close to
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest night of the 12 months.
He provides his harness bells a shake
To ask if there may be some mistake.
The one different sound’s the sweep
Of straightforward wind and downy flake.
The woods are beautiful, darkish and deep,
However I’ve guarantees to maintain,
And miles to go earlier than I sleep,
And miles to go earlier than I sleep.
It’s vital to understand that the complete poem relies on the poet’s resolution to cease. No stopping, no poem. And that’s the distinction between the poet and the horse, who could also be seen as consultant of the drive of behavior, the unconscious intuition to do what it has all the time accomplished. “My little horse should suppose it queer / To cease with no farmhouse close to . . . He provides his harness bells a shake / To ask if there may be some mistake.” Likewise, for many of us, caught up in getting from one place to a different, there is no such thing as a compelling cause to step outdoors the stream of time and easily discover—enter into, acknowledge our oneness with—what’s taking place within the current second: on this case, the woods filling up with snow, the sound of “straightforward wind and downy flake” inducing within the poet, and maybe in us, a sort of reverent trance.
It’s additionally value pausing to think about the furtive nature of this second. The traveler notes, with reduction, maybe, that the proprietor of the woods won’t see him whereas he stops to look at the snowstorm. There’s a privateness and intimacy in his unobserved, secretive trying. As a result of if he had been noticed, it might be with puzzlement or suspicion. Just like the horse, the proprietor of the woods would additionally suppose it odd for somebody to cease and stare upon falling snow. Our cultural pragmatism can’t simply comprehend or justify the impulse to look intently at one thing for no “good cause” (excluding formally sanctioned magnificence like sunsets, oceans, mountain vistas, and many others.). Snow falling in lonely woods doesn’t fall throughout the acceptable classes of issues that warrant our full consideration. In fact, we as readers do observe the poet. We have a look at him as he appears to be like on the falling snow. We see the snow by means of his eyes and we additionally see his seeing, see him within the act of seeing. The poem thus provides us an instance of how we would comport ourselves in the same setting or scenario. The poet’s habits each within the poem and within the writing of the poem makes an implicit argument, a beautiful one, in favor of stopping and searching.
However why? What does this stopping by woods on “the darkest night of the 12 months,” the winter solstice, give rise to? A second of extraordinary depth and stillness, and a reminder that there’s a world of magnificence that exists independently of human will and goal. Frost says: “The woods are beautiful, darkish and deep,” and we really feel the attraction the poet additionally felt, the will to enter these woods, to slide the world of duties and locations, escape the constriction of egoic self-concern, and merge with that depth and stillness. The poet doesn’t give in, however his repeating of the road “And miles to go earlier than I sleep” suggests the problem of resisting that lure. (Even the snowflakes are “downy”—falling down but additionally evoking feathery down comforters). We really feel the pull of these woods even after the poem has ended, how great it might be to drop the whole lot and immerse ourselves in such quiet amplitude, in snow that blurs and blends all issues in its whiteness—a bodily enactment of the seamless nature of actuality, which in our recurring approach of seeing seems as a collection of separate issues. In a way the poem itself turns into the woods, an imaginative area the place we will expertise a deep and therapeutic self-forgetfulness. The query then is, how lengthy can we cease and stick with the poem, the hushed world it locations us in? Can we really feel the sense of surprise and reverence the poet himself has felt? Can we feature that feeling with us into the calls for and distractions of every day life? Can we permit ourselves merely to cease and look?
Strolling-and-stopping meditation is a observe designed to assist us interrupt the recurring momentum of the thoughts and shift from being misplaced in thought—worrying, planning, regretting, wanting, and many others.—to paying shut consideration to what’s proper in entrance of us.
Select a spot to stroll—ideally in nature, although this meditation can be accomplished in a city or metropolis—someplace you are feeling secure sufficient so that you simply don’t should be overly vigilant and the place you received’t really feel too self-conscious about stopping and issues. Earlier than you start to stroll, merely stand and really feel how your ft make contact with the bottom. Shift your weight back and forth, one foot to the opposite, and really feel how your entire skeletal construction adjusts to this motion. Convey your consideration to the stream of your respiration and see no matter physique sensations are current.
Start to stroll at a gradual however not funereal tempo, about half as quick as you often stroll. Meditation instructor Tara Brach says, “If I stroll half as quick, I discover twice as a lot.” Merely stroll and look. Let your eye be drawn the place it’ll, however maintain an intention to note the stuff you sometimes overlook, issues which have a impartial feeling tone, that don’t name forth any robust feeling, constructive or destructive: the intricacies of the bark and roots of timber, the qualities of filth and rocks, shadows solid by bushes and ferns, spider webs lit by daylight; or, should you’re in a metropolis or city, the lettering on avenue indicators, bolts on fireplace hydrants, twigs on the sidewalk, and many others.
As you stroll, really feel when one thing attracts your consideration, when one thing appears to name to you or feels particularly vivid. When that occurs, let your self go towards that factor and cease. Give it your full consideration. Merely discover what’s there in as a lot element as attainable with out including any conceptual overlay. Don’t ascribe that means to what you see and don’t inform a narrative about it: simply look. Convey a top quality of heat and friendliness to your trying. Really feel as if what you’re is conscious of your gaze and appreciates the eye, as if it may be saying, “Ah, how great to be observed! Nobody ever actually sees me the best way you’re seeing me.”
Discover the bodily options of the thing however see additionally should you can sense any energetic high quality emanating from it. Discover the standard of the connection you’re having with it, the way it feels to carry it in your consciousness. Stick with the thing so long as you’re in a position to preserve noticing and appreciating it. While you’re able to resume your stroll, bow to your new buddy (inwardly or outwardly) and thank it for being there.
Start strolling once more and repeat this course of when the following factor calls out to you. Do that so long as it holds your curiosity. Discover the impact this observe has on you. Maybe a deeper sense of reference to the “peculiar” issues of the world will come up, or a way of calm affection, or the spaciousness, appreciation, and gratitude that comes from giving freely your consideration to issues sometimes neglected. You may additionally discover the distinction between strolling and searching and stopping and searching, and between these moments of brilliant consideration and our recurring approach of being misplaced in ideas.
You would possibly wish to observe stopping and searching all through the day, even when just for a number of moments. It’s exceptional what we will see after we cease and switch the sunshine of consciousness on the issues we take without any consideration.
As the traditional Japanese poet Previous Shoju says:
“Need meaningless Zen? / Simply look—at something!”
For extra on the idea of “the sacred pause,” discover a writing train on web page 142 of The Dharma of Poetry, in addition to additional evaluation of poems together with “First Days of Spring,” by Japanese poet Ryokan (1758–1831), and “A Blessing,” by poet James Wright.