This article was originally published as the Exercise of the Month in the first issue of the Pentacle Journal, published in June 1985, edited by Tony Potter. It describes his approach to the ‘Stop’ exercise.
If we take even a cursory look at present-day society, it is clear that there is a restlessness, a turbulence which is not entirely due to the fact that, as it ever was, “the other man’s grass is greener”. Nor is this restlessness the sign of productive activity which it is often mistakenly taken to be.
It can be noticed, for example, that a large proportion of society responds to changes in their environment purely reflexively. Simply look around on a bus or a train and notice the number of people who are fidgeting, scratching, making unnecessary movements and generally behaving in a way which can only lead one to suppose that they are not in any way aware of what they are doing.
This much is fairly easy to notice in others; it is, however, nothing like so simple to spot in ourselves. For this reason, the next time you are in an environment which includes a large number of people, take note of this reflex movement and, at the same time and more importantly, notice your own posture and movements. What are your feet doing? Are you unconsciously tapping a toe or biting your nails? Are you scratching when you do not itch? Is your mind focused on the immediate moment or are you attempting to relive a past event which cannot be changed?
If you notice yourself doing any of these things, just try to envisage how much energy, and hence how much of your life, is being wasted on activity which is totally unproductive, and then STOP. It is precisely this unproductive effort which is symptomatic of the reflex state we see around us. Another such symptom is that of movement in a circle. Everyone is familiar with the way in which the mind, when occupied with a specific, worrying problem, moves round and round, being drawn to the same conclusions (often even more worrying than the problem) without any constructive end point being reached. Most people are also familiar with the organic symptoms which run in parallel with this state. The same physical actions are repeated over and over again (e.g., nail-biting, toe-tapping) which can, and sometimes do, lead to a purely pathological condition such as a nervous breakdown, loss of hair, nervous rashes, etc.
As mentioned, the way in which to avoid this unnecessary and unproductive loss of energy is to STOP at every available opportunity. By this is not meant a frantic screeching to a halt, but a gentle, controlled flow to a standstill. This is obviously easier to achieve, at first, when the body is relaxed. The mind can then be allowed to empty. Unfortunately, it is in these circumstances that the least advantage is gained. The greatest effect is achieved when one STOPs in the midst of an otherwise turbulent situation. This STOP only needs to be momentary. If it is done correctly, the depth of the effect is quite unexpected and, the first time it is experienced, somewhat startling. Indeed, it has been written:-
If, in the midst of troubled time, we stand aside,
And wait until the seeming storm subside,
We stand, though unawares, upon a hallowed ground,
For we have found,
This may sound a little melodramatic, but it is in fact, an explicit description of a properly executed STOP. It has the effect of removing one completely from the limitations of time and space and enabling one to observe the environment as a completely objective phenomenon. At the same time, since the superficial (and largely superfluous) activity of the conscious mind has been brought to a standstill, some of the activity of the uppermost levels of the unconscious mind is allowed to come into consciousness. Since the “language” of the unconscious is almost entirely symbolic, rather than explicitly concrete, the result can be very similar to a “vision”.
The effect of this process is therefore twofold. Since the constraints of time are removed, not only do one’s observations become objective, but a sense of perspective is established which cannot exist in normal circumstances. Secondly, since successive layers of the unconscious are brought to light every time a STOP is carried out, the process constitutes a highly successful method for the development of self-awareness.
As mentioned, the process is not one of applying the brakes frantically, but is very much a matter of allowing oneself gently to come to a halt, bearing in mind the fact that an unruffled, open mind is the natural state for the human psyche and that the hectic chasing of one unproductive thought after another is a pathological state which we have allowed to become our normal condition.