Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

The Sacred Art of Pausing

--by Tara Brach (May 01, 2017)

In our lives we often find ourselves in situations we can’t control, circumstances in which none of our strategies work. Helpless and distraught, we frantically try to manage what is happening. Our child takes a downward turn in academics and we issue one threat after another to get him in line. Someone says something hurtful to us and we strike back quickly or retreat. We make a mistake at work and we scramble to cover it up or go out of our way to make up for it. We head into emotionally charged confrontations nervously rehearsing and strategizing.

The more we fear failure the more frenetically our bodies and minds work. We fill our days with continual movement: mental planning and worrying, habitual talking, fixing, scratching, adjusting, phoning, snacking, discarding, buying, looking in the mirror.

What would it be like if, right in the midst of this busyness, we were to consciously take our hands off the controls? What if we were to intentionally stop our mental computations and our rushing around and, for a minute or two, simply pause and notice our inner experience?

Learning to pause is the first step in the practice of Radical Acceptance. A pause is a suspension of activity, a time of temporary disengagement when we are no longer moving towards any goal. The pause can occur in the midst of almost any activity and can last for an instant, for hours or for seasons of our life.

We may take a pause from our ongoing responsibilities by sitting down to meditate. We may pause in the midst of meditation to let go of thoughts and reawaken our attention to the breath. We may pause by stepping out of daily life to go on a retreat or to spend time in nature or to take a sabbatical. We may pause in a conversation, letting go of what we’re about to say, in order to genuinely listen and be with the other person. We may pause when we feel suddenly moved or delighted or saddened, allowing the feelings to play through our heart. In a pause we simply discontinue whatever we are doing—thinking, talking, walking, writing, planning, worrying, eating—and become wholeheartedly present, attentive and, often, physically still.

A pause is, by nature, time limited. We resume our activities, but we do so with increased presence and more ability to make choices. In the pause before sinking our teeth into a chocolate bar, for instance, we might recognize the excited tingle of anticipation, and perhaps a background cloud of guilt and self-judgment. We may then choose to eat the chocolate, fully savoring the taste sensations, or we might decide to skip the chocolate and instead go out for a run. When we pause, we don’t know what will happen next. But by disrupting our habitual behaviors, we open to the possibility of new and creative ways of responding to our wants and fears.

Of course there are times when it is not appropriate to pause. If our child is running towards a busy street, we don’t pause. If someone is about to strike us, we don’t just stand there, resting in the moment—rather, we quickly find a way to defend ourselves. If we are about to miss a flight, we race toward the gate. But much of our driven pace and habitual controlling in daily life does not serve surviving, and certainly not thriving. It arises from a free-floating anxiety about something being wrong or not enough. Even when our fear arises in the face of actual failure, loss or even death, our instinctive tensing and striving are often ineffectual and unwise.

Taking our hands off the controls and pausing is an opportunity to clearly see the wants and fears that are driving us. During the moments of a pause, we become conscious of how the feeling that something is missing or wrong keeps us leaning into the future, on our way somewhere else. This gives us a fundamental choice in how we respond: We can continue our futile attempts at managing our experience, or we can meet our vulnerability with the wisdom of Radical Acceptance.

Often the moment when we most need to pause is exactly when it feels most intolerable to do so. Pausing in a fit of anger, or when overwhelmed by sorrow or filled with desire, may be the last thing we want to do. Pausing can feel like falling helplessly through space—we have no idea of what will happen. We fear we might be engulfed by the rawness of our rage or grief or desire. Yet without opening to the actual experience of the moment, Radical Acceptance is not possible.

Through the sacred art of pausing, we develop the capacity to stop hiding, to stop running away from our experience. We begin to trust in our natural intelligence, in our naturally wise heart, in our capacity to open to whatever arises. Like awakening from a dream, in the moment of pausing our trance recedes and Radical Acceptance becomes possible. 

Excerpted from here. Tara Brach’s teachings blend Western psychology and Eastern spiritual practices, mindful attention to our inner life, and a full, compassionate engagement with our world. 

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Previous Reflections:

On Apr 28, 2017 susan schaller wrote:

Yesterday, I was telling someone of a great gift given me.  Many years ago, a "pause button" popped in my head.  When someone says or does something ridiculous, abusive, crazy and self serving, instead of reacting, the phrase "Humans, don't ya just love 'em." rises.  It immediately gives me distance to allow tolerance and compassion to take the place of a knee-jerk, selfish reaction. This phrase originally surfaced without any conscious effort, and has served as a tremendous gift of the pause I need to see how much more we are alike than different.

On Apr 28, 2017 xiaoshan wrote:

An intentional pause is the first step to get us out of almost any dreadful situation, to see the bigger picture, to realize what actually is happening, and more importantly, to communicate with our body and inner self. Because we do not naturally just pause, it often is helpful to set up some sort of reminder, such as setting up a recurring alarm or ask a good friend to check in with you from time to time.

On Apr 29, 2017 david doane wrote:

 In fact, we have so little control.  I very much value letting go of trying to control and taking hold of trusting my inner experience.  In general, we do far too much trying to control self, others, and situations and too little noticing, trusting, and expressing our inner experience.  There have been times in relationships when I don't try to control direction or outcome and trust my inner experience, being present, open, and true to my inner experience, and it invariably is a positive experience.  A good mantra would be inner experience, not control.  I like the author's phrase "sacred pause." To me, what makes it sacred is when in it my inner experience and outer expression are in harmony and I am integrated rather than fragmented or duplicitous.

On Apr 29, 2017 Jagdish P Dave wrote:

 We go where our mind goes. Our mind takes a ride in the past or a flight in the future, hardly staying in the present. Wandering mind becomes our default mode of functioning. Such a wandering mind is compared to monkey mind taking control of ourselves. Such a wandering mind deprives us from being free and deeply connected with us, others in our life and the beauty of nature. Our mind can be our enemy and it also can be our friend.We need to learn  how to make our mind our friend.

Mindfulness  is one of the ways for making our mind friendly. I have  been regularly practicing mindfulness. It has been very helpful to me for making me peaceful, joyful, compassionate and creative. Mindfulness is a non-judgmental and compassionate existential awareness. of what is happening in me and around me. It has helped me to remain present to what is rather than what was or what will be. It keeps me stay in the being zone rather than the default mode of going away from the present moment.

I value the power of pausing when my mind takes a hike and goes to the past or the future, taking away from the here and now consciousness..Noticing where my mind goes without reactive judgmental thoughts, I pause, breathe and connect my mind with the ever present breath. In  the mindfulness landscape, sitting doing nothing, spring comes and grass grows by itself. Life bestows blessings and I receive them gratefully.

May we learn how to befriend our mind, be here and now, and receive blessings coming from everywhere!


Jagdish P Dave

On May 1, 2017 Kristin Pedemonti wrote:

 Thank you. I needed this reminder. I have experienced a challenging week with memories of past childhood sexual molestation surfacing. This weekend I went on a retreat with someone dear to me. We were lucky to have no internet access for an entire 3 days and it was so refreshing to tune into the nature around us in the Canadian wilderness. We hiked in solitude, often in quiet even together. We paused, sat on benches and breathed in fresh mountain air. We gazed at mountains, we felt snow on our faces. It was a respite from any type of control and it felt so freeing. My mind felt much more settled after disconnected and recalibrating. I am grateful. 

On May 2, 2017 Joan wrote:
When I am in need of a sacred pause I send time with my horses. Not riding, just being with them. Over the years it has become clear to me that they are intentionally able to shift my vibration from sped up to calm. This happens as soon as I truly connect with them. 

On May 2, 2017 wrote:

 I put my beloved dog to sleep on Saturday.  I miss her terribly and long for a sign that she is near me.  Yesterday, as I was crying in the shower, a voice told me to calm down and be still, because with all my despair, saying over and over how much I love her, she could not get through to me.  I got quiet and felt better. It takes a quiet pause to communicate with your animal friend.  

On May 4, 2017 Koriander wrote:

I was forced to hit the "Pause" button this week! Two days ago, I was hit with vertigo and nausea completely out of nowhere. I first experienced it at night when lying down and it was especially bad when having to turn. It's frightening when something like this happens as one doesn't know what's going on.  Thanks to some excellent info provided by doctors and individuals on the internet, I had enough reason to think it's what's termed Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (or BPPV), caused by crystal(s) moving through the fluid in one of the inner ear canals.  I did the prescribed maneuvers to move the offending culprits out of the inner ear and today I am feeling leagues better. 
Today I am feeling incredibly grateful simply to feel like myself again.  I am keenly aware that I had no options but to release my usual attempts to control, to get lots of stuff done, to criticize or gossip because there wasn't any energy to do so!  So why waste my time with these things now that I feel better again?  Why not keep it all a bit more slowed-down instead of driving, driving, driving?  Why not "Do Nothing" but savor a few moments here and there?

On Jul 16, 2017 andrew littleford wrote:

   Very true, but modern society makes this difficult, be persistant, its worth it! xx

On Aug 27, 2017 mukesh wrote: