Book Review – Stopping

Stopping: How to Be Still When You Have to Keep Going
By Dr. David Kundtz
Foreword by Richard Carlson
Conari Press © 1998 David J. Kundtz S.T.D.

“No matter how fast we go, no matter how many comforts we forgo, there never seems to be enough time.” — Jay Walljasper

Does it ever feel to you that life has become a hurried, frantic, blur? Does it seem like the hours, days, and years disappear before you’ve had a chance to enjoy or even reflect on them? Is your life more like an Indy car race than a walk in the park? Have you been running so long that you’ve forgotten what it’s like to stop and take a normal breath?

If so, make time for “Stopping”.

Dr. David Kundtz, a respected speaker, counselor, and psychotherapist, has produced a book targeted at the very heart of our modern, hyper-paced world.

At the beginning of the book, Kundtz tells the story of one of his clients, Mary
Helen, who says during one of her counseling sessions, “It’s too much, I just can’t deal with it all!” She then bursts into tears. Mary Helen is a successful, intelligent woman with no personality disorder, no underlying psychosis, no marriage on the rocks, no faltering career. To the outside observer, Mary Helen’s life should have been going smoothly. On the surface, there didn’t appear to be anything preventing her from feeling a sense of fulfillment and happiness. But instead of happiness she felt “at the end of her rope,” unable to adequately cope with the demands of her daily life. She was miserable and overburdened. She was, according to Dr. Kundtz, facing the “Mountain of Too Much.”

Kundtz reminds us that Mary Helen is not alone in this circumstance:

“Most of us in this hurry-up, e-mail world of instant response are feeling the same sense of overload that my client Mary Helen felt. Indeed, the primary challenge to successful human life in the postmodern, millennial world is the challenge of too much: too much to do; too much to cope with; too much distraction; too much noise; too much demanding our attention; or, for many of us too many opportunities and too many choices. Too much of everything for the time and energy available.”

Dr. Kundtz prescribes a deceptively simple remedy: Stopping. Stopping, says Kundtz, isn’t a total lack of activity. Rather, it’s a technique to ensure that when we go back to our “going,” we go in the direction we want to go, not just the direction we feel forced to go.

“Stopping is doing nothing as much as possible for a definite period of time (one second to one month) for the purpose of becoming more fully awake and remembering who you are.”

Kundtz reminds us that going, by itself, isn’t the problem. Going is what we of the Industrialized Western world are known for. It’s what we do best: get on with business, get things done, accomplish feats, etc. But this process of going has become, for many of us, the ONLY thing we do. We go and go, until we drive ourselves into physical or mental illness, emotional collapse, and spiritual breakdown. We’ve essentially forgotten how to stop. We’ve lost the balance between going and stopping. And stopping, although it is sometimes mistaken for laziness or indolence, is critical to realizing the fulfillment and meaning of our going and doing. “Without Stopping,” says Kundtz, “our going can get us into deep trouble.”

Kundzt wastes no time addressing the two most commonly used techniques many of us use to handle the “Mountain of Too Much:” Cramming and Cutting.

Cramming is attempting to fit more into a finite amount of time. The more we can do in an hour or a day, the better. Or so we think. There are consequences to this strategy, some quite unhealthy. Cramming, says Kundtz, is like an over-full suitcase which is so stuffed with clothes that it eventually bursts at the seams. Cramming forces us to speed up and condense everything we do. It’s a “quantity over quality” approach that eventually leads to burn-out.

Cutting is excluding more and more aspects of our lives to make room for new demands. “We drop old friends to make room for taking our kids to soccer, we eliminate lunch to get a little more work done, we cut short our days off to catch up on a report.” This works, to a point. But when we’ve finally cut all but the essentials out of our life we find that we really have no life left at all. We’ve become less of a human and more of a machine that processes data and completes tasks. And like any machine pushed too far beyond its limits, we wear down and break.

Cramming and Cutting do not work. In fact they really only compound the problem because they’re nothing more than ways of making more room for the same dysfunctional behavior of going, going, going, without Stopping.

“The way to do is to be.” — Lao Tzu

Throughout the book, Kundtz describes three different kinds of Stopping:
Stillpoints, Stopovers, and Grinding Halts. Each is defined according to the time involved and each brings it’s own unique set of benefits.

Stillpoints, says Kundtz, “are the little times, brief interludes, quick respites, one minute breaks, breathers, intermissions, and lulls.” A day with fifteen Stillpoints is a healthier, more enjoyable day. And while the idea may appear to the workaholics among us as “wasted time,” Kundtz emphasizes that the idea here is to use Stillpoints as a means of being not only happier, but more productive as well. When we stop, even if only for a moment, and take a deep breath, we’re much more likely to make our next move in a healthy and resourceful direction rather than being the reactionary pinball, bouncing wildly from one thing to another.

Stopovers are longer in duration than Stillpoints. They’re an hour, many hours, a day, a weekend, or several days where we essentially do nothing in order to restore our connection to our lives. Meditation expert Jon Kabat-Zinn is quoted by Kundtz as saying, “The stopping actually makes the going more vivid, richer, more textured. It helps keep all the things we worry about and feel inadequate about in perspective. It gives us guidance.” Stopovers allow us to wake up to what is happening in our lives. Some people will immediately think of a Stopover as a vacation. This can be true, but Kundtz wisely points out that for some of us, vacations are even more draining than our usual daily routines. Stopovers are not time to cram in all the things you’ve been putting off doing, but rather time to Stop, and become present to yourself.

Grinding Halts are the longest form of Stopping. They may occur only one, two, or three times in an average lifetime. Grinding Halts represent a kind of long-term retreat from the usual routines. They’re a way of removing ourselves from the incessant flow of our usual responsibilities in order to give full attention to ourselves. Often, Grinding Halt are necessitated by some sort of major life transition. They do sometimes require careful planning and consideration of other responsibilities. But the rewards of a Grinding Halt are described in detail through several case histories and testimonials of Kundtz’s clients in the book.

“I am the rest between two notesŠ” Rainer Maria Rilke

Much of the book details the specific ways in which these three methods of
Stopping can be applied, and how they are likely to impact your life. Kundtz draws on a range of sources — often from his own counseling experiences – to illustrate the value and application of Stopping. His penchant for quoting poets and citing excellent quotes throughout the book adds flavor to the pages, and makes the book’s 260 pages enjoyable to read. (It must be a challenge to write a book intended for people who may feel like they’re too busy to read it!)

Personally, I appreciated the degree of understanding Kundtz expresses throughout the book regarding “real life.” He does not merely say, “drop what you’re doing, leave everything behind, move to Walden Pond, and gaze into the water.” He understands and acknowledges the importance of maintaining our connections to those elements of life we spend our days working for and toward. But his offering is, at core, a reminder that in order to truly enjoy those elements of life we invest ourselves in — be it work, family, or other relationships — we must make time to Stop, to become present and mindful of our lives.

Anyone can enjoy and benefit from Dr. Kundtz’s “Stopping.” Enjoy the book!

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