Stopping has a special place in the Buddhist path. It is closely tied to insight, finding peace, and moving past our habit energies, those behaviors that block the path to insight and liberation.
There is a story that speaks of a man riding a horse. The horse is galloping very fast, and another man on the side of the road calls out, “Where are you going?” “I don’t know!” replies the rider. “Ask the horse!”
This story illustrates how our habit energy works. The horse represents our habit energy, the whims of which we seem powerless to control. When we feel a strong emotion like fear, depression or anxiety, we quickly become caught in a very uncomfortable storm. Just as quickly, our habit energies take over and our reaction is to turn on the television, have a drink or two or head for the refrigerator – whatever it is that we perceive will take away the uncomfortable feeling. Invariably, this does not work, and leaves us worse off than before.
Our habit energies are very powerful – no matter how many times we pledge to behave differently next time, we will continue to fall back into the same patterns again and again. It’s not that we want to, but we do not know what else to do. How can we better deal with these moments?
The answer, according to Buddhism, is to learn the art of stopping. The man on the horse would do well to learn how to stop his horse, and so can we learn to stop our habit energy, turning instead to that which will bring us peace. And what is that thing? What will help us to stop? We can learn to stop through mindfulness. It is very simple: when we use mindfulness, whether it is mindful walking, mindful breathing or any other way to be present, we will find ourselves immediately in a place of understanding and loving kindness. We need only to say, “I see you, habit energy, but you will not trick me this time! I will stop. I will be mindful.”
Mindfulness is the miracle. By simply being present, we can use the miracle of mindfulness to recognize our habit energy. We can stop our runaway horse.