The first step in learning to live deeply here and now is to do the stop practice. There is a well-known Zen story about a man who was riding a galloping horse. When someone sees him they shout at him: "Where are you going?" And the rider answers by turning around: "I don't know, ask the horse!" The story is fun, but at the same time it is true.
We don't know exactly where we are going or why we hurry so much. A galloping horse is dragging us and deciding everything for us. And we follow him. This horse is called "the energy of habit." You may have received this energy from your parents or from your ancestors. This energy is what is dictating your words and actions, you are not your true sovereign, it is the horse and not you who is making you move forward. It is the energy of habit that pushes you to say and do things despite not being that your intention, something that hurts both you and others.
For example, even knowing that if we say something unpleasant we will suffer both those around us and ourselves, we say it anyway. Later we regret it and exclaim: “I couldn't help it! the desire was stronger than me.” We promise with all our hearts that next time we will not act like this, but when the situation repeats again we behave in exactly the same way, doing and saying things that not only harm others but also ourselves. This kind of energy is the energy of habit.
Our task is to become aware of it and not let it drag us anymore. We smile at him and say: "Hello, energy of habit, I know you are here." The first step to take care of yourself is to learn to stop and look inside. It is a wonderful practice. When we are nervous, when someone is angry or screams, when we feel very sad or depressed, what can we do to smile again and be alive? If we learn the art of stopping, we will calm down within ourselves and we can calm those around us. The practice of stopping serves to regain calm and have a clear and stable mind. Without serenity, without a clear and stable mind, we cannot face our problems.
- Thich Nhat Hanh