The Joy of Pausing


The American clown, Wavy Gravy, once famously said, “I come from the land of one thing after another.” And so do we all! From getting out of bed in the morning to lying down tired at night, each routine and little task is followed by the next. Even when we take a break, those moments are quickly filled with distractions — chatting, thinking, reading, or watching a screen. One thing after another.

joy of pausingWe can’t avoid this — it’s how the melody of life is played. This moment flows into the next, the current never stops. The problem for us comes when we feel pressured by the sense that too many things are demanding to be done next. That pressure is amplified when we worry about negative events we imagine could happen in the future. Then we feel compressed and tense, as if there isn’t enough room for us in our own life. We lose our quiet center; we lose the sense that we are present and whole.

In my own life I’ve found that pausing helps when I lose my quiet center. By “pausing” I don’t mean simply stopping what I’m doing and sitting quietly somewhere, although that’s always a good tonic. Pausing, as I experience it, can be done right in the middle of the river, and it can be as brief as a single breath. The length of a pause is not as important as its depth.

There are many styles of pausing — here are a few that work for me:

Pausing self-talk: Much of the pressure we feel in our life comes from the dominance of our mind stream, our self-talk. It’s important to notice that self-talk has two partners: the one who’s talking and the one who’s listening. We explain things to ourselves as if there were two of us. To create a pause in the middle of self-talk, simply say to yourself, “Stop talking for ten seconds.” You might be amazed to find how well it works! It may not last very long, but ten seconds is quite possible. In that pause, relax, take a breath, do nothing.

Pausing opinions: Opinions are points of view. They’re less noticeable than self-talk since they supply the background flavors to our mind stream. Often we don’t even code that we are pressured by our opinions; we simply assume they’re the truth of what’s happening. One way to notice our points of view is to recognize we’re making judgments: “I have no time for myself;” “Nobody else is helping;” “It’s always like this;” “My life is a mess.” Once you spot that you’re making a judgment, invite yourself to pause for a moment from its conclusion, from its certainty about being true. You don’t have to argue with yourself about it, just allow for ten or fifteen seconds that it might not be true. In that pause, relax.

Pausing before you snap back: When we feel pressured by events, or people’s demands on us, or when we feel misunderstood, it’s easy to get irritable. Notice how irritability feels in your body, and when you feel that rise, pause before you say a word that will hurt, since it’s like an arrow you can’t call back.

Pausing when you wake: Pausing for a minute when you first open your eyes in the morning is a good and easy habit to cultivate. It’s an intimate moment before anything is asked of you, a good time to feel thankful for your life, and to bless everyone and everything you can think of.

Pausing by asking: A humble question creates a pause. What’s happening now? What am I doing? What am I feeling? The question doesn’t presume an answer. It even lifts up its voice at the end — what’s happening now? — and the mind sails off without a clue. There, for a moment, the mind is suspended in a healing pause.

Pausing in your heart. Typically we experience the center of our awareness as residing in our head, behind our eyes. For a minute or two, allow your awareness to drop down to the middle of your chest, to your heart center. Your heart is a wordless place, but it is caring and warm. Rest there. It may help to briefly recall images of people or aspects of life you care deeply about. Let yourself care from your heart and be grateful for what makes your life worth living.

Pausing in Nature’s presence: We spend most of our time immersed in the culture and built environment of the human world, and feel we have little contact with free nature. Pausing in Nature’s presence can remind us of our first belonging. Look at the sky; breathe in its spaciousness. Sit with your back against a tree and sense the life of its roots below and its branches above. Watch water flowing. Give yourself small moments where you feel how your animal nature is undivided from the living world. Pause there.

Pausing in timeless awareness: The Indian sage Nisargadatta once advised a student who asked for guidance, “Go back! Go back!” Go back to the place where you begin, right now, the place of spacious awareness that hosts all the phenomena you experience. It is a simple move, although nothing really moves. Just open up to the clearing you already are and pause there for a moment or two. When you do that your whole life is refreshed.