by Megan McDonough
The stop sign seemed superfluous. Wherever I looked, the vastness extended to the horizon. The sunbaked Southwest prairie ended at towering red rock mesas. The blue sky came down to meet it, feeling higher and longer than the sky I’m used to in the forested Northeast. In this open emptiness filled with beauty, the red STOP! stood out. What else was there to do but to stop?
And so we stopped. We stayed the night, just off the road, on our way to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. This trip was a milestone. Our daughter had just graduated from college, our son from high school. Joe and I celebrated by taking a hiking vacation together—the first two weeks we’ve taken alone for over 21 years. We savored every moment.
That night, as I looked at the setting sun, I thought about the stop sign. It’s so easy to stop when there is nothing calling for your attention. There was no television, internet, or even cell phone reception. I couldn’t check in with my family, the news, or work. The only thing on the docket was nature, pure and simple. As Joe hiked through the stubbly grass, I sat. It was easy to stop, easy to appreciate.
The stop sign was unnecessary. Of course it was time to stop.
The more challenging thing in life, as always, is stopping when there’s lots going on … finding mental space to pause, breathe, and take it in, even as the pace of life keeps cramming stuff into your attentional field.
The wide-open space spreading out behind that sign was in direct opposition to my typical day, in which my attention is called upon to focus on this, then that, now those, and then back to this again.
Stopping while on vacation is easy. But stopping is good and necessary every day—although harder to do.
What’s worth your time today to stop for? How would stopping, just for the sake of stopping, enrich your day?
Vacation or not, big family milestones or not, may each stop sign you see today remind you to take in this unique moment in your life.
Megan McDonough is CEO of Wholebeing Institute, an educational organization co-founded with Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar. WBI is committed to spreading ideas and practices that can help individuals and groups live life to its fullest.
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