Yesterday evening I took my 5-year-old daughter, Ruby, for a bike ride. After two weeks of gray, cold social distancing, I got to watch her tear through our neighborhood on her too-small bike, unzipped sweatshirt billowing behind her, shouting “HELLO!” to her neighborhood friends (from at least 6 feet away, of course). After the long, rainy days, this ride in the evening sun was perfect…..nearly.
Ruby was the leader on this ride, and I was behind her on my bike. And she kept doing this thing that if you’ve ever been led on a bike ride by a 5-year-old, you’ll know all too well. She kept stopping.
We’d get going, gain speed, and we’d be soaring along with this fantastic free feeling and all of a sudden she’d slam on her brakes, hurling me into this jerky response of trying to stop without plowing her over or falling off my own bike.
“What’s up, Ru? Why are we stopping?”
And she’d reply,
“Got an itch!” or “A stick!” or “Gotta fix my pants!” or “Mom! Um….I forgot.”
And then we’d start again, all momentum lost, building up again to the speed we’d once had, just to come to another jerky stop. Needless to say, it was a little frustrating.
I didn’t remember until after bedtime that earlier that day I’d taught a class using the word “stop” as a central theme and first step in a methodology for cultivating contentment.
I am always struck by how life offers me the wisdom of Yoga over and over again when I’m willing to see it. I missed it in the moment this time, but lying in my own bed last night I realized how important that free and fantastic and frustrating bike ride was.
According to my teacher for this week, Br. David Steindl-Rast, stopping is the first step toward being able to actually feel grateful. Only when we stop, and draw our attention into the here and now, can we actually notice what is in front of us.
And this is really, really hard.
It’s as hard as forcing your bike to a stop in the middle of a sunny, two-wheeled freefall downhill on fresh pavement with no traffic in sight.
Our minds like to move.
Have you ever listed things you’re grateful for, or looked around at your life with this feeling that you should be grateful, yet somehow still feel discontent? Yep, me too. And I think that phenomenon is because we missed this first step. We didn’t actually stop.
When you’ve stopped, you’ll know.
Deadlines and identities and contexts disappear.
You’ll feel the weight of the warm cat on your lap, or notice the vibrant colors in the stacked towels. You’ll see the interesting slant of light and listen to the story being told by the noises floating up the stairwell in your house.
Maybe the most remarkable indicator that you’ve actually stopped is that you’ll most likely want to stay.
The time of this writing is wild and unknowable. A rampant virus is engulfing our planet, affecting every human being alive. It is moving fast, and our inclination is to also move fast – we want to be able to do something, go somewhere, help someway or get help or get away. Instead we’re asked to stay in our homes, where our minds can start to take over. Since we can’t physically run from what is happening, we start to mentally run. We obsess, worry, escape, become anxious or depressed.
I think all of these feelings are things we need to acknowledge and honor and maybe get some support for.
But I also wonder, can you slow down that bike?
Can you maybe, even, stop?
Can you rest in this moment, wherever you are, just as it is? Look around you and notice, hold, attend to the stuff around you, as it is, right now?
And can you fix your attention there, withholding the urge to start pedaling again?
I invite you to share with me this week your own ways of stopping.
Sure, I teach Yoga and mindfulness. But I am far from fantastic at practicing all this stuff all the time. I am and always will be a work in progress. And though I have the tools to experience stopping, I’m usually way more willing to keep flying down that hill.
Share your stories, pictures, and stopping strategies with me. Comment here or email me:
And please let me know if I’d be free to share your contributions on my social media platforms!