Pausing: An Invaluable Life Skill


"The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause." Mark Twain

How often do you stop what you are doing and simply notice? Can you distinguish the difference between letting something come to you and taking it in versus thinking about it, analyzing it, and evaluating it?

A practice in pausing is essential in order to step back from our habitual patterns and ways of doing things. Pausing is the entryway to stillness. When we are still, we can let down our guard, both with others and also with ourselves. Without stillness, we become strangers to ourselves.

Pausing, and the quiet and stillness that comes with it, is initially uncomfortable. It only becomes comfortable as we practice it and come to experience its transformational powers.

The practice of noticing our mind often gives us alternate ways of moving through the discomfort. Naturally and organically, our own answers come to us. Not always, but often.

What does practicing pausing concretely look like?

It might be helpful to conceptualize two levels of pausing practices. The first type of pausing practice is to literally build in time into your daily routine. This kind of practice can occur in breaks throughout the day or for longer chunks of time. The purpose of this pausing is to, in action, step back from routine. The second type of pausing practice is to develop the capacity to pause and notice what is happening as it is happening. The first kind of pause hopefully helps to build the day-to-day in-the-moment types of pausing.

The first kind of pause can be any activity where you set an intention to step back from your habits of thought, perception, and action and behold your experience in a fresh way. This kind of pause practice includes but is far from limited-to: leaving work and walking around the block, laying down your to-do list; taking vacations; practicing yoga; taking naps; massage; meditating; writing in a journal; sitting in nature; physical exercise; listening to music.

This first kind of pause has the quality of engagement, not distraction. It is perfectly fine to take a break and watch a television show, play a video game, text, or take care of non-work business. This is not, however, pausing in an intentional way.

Many of us do try to incorporate the first type of pause into our life. What is important is that you be committed to these type of pauses and not let the obligations of everyday life intrude on them. It is these types of activities which can get intruded upon all too readily by work and other obligations when we are busy. Schedule them and be committed to them. Ideally the practice of taking these type of pauses will become as routine as your other routines. When they become routine, living intentionally comes more easily.

When you practice the second kind of pausing and noticing, during your day-to-day life as you are living it, recognize it!

In particular, pay attention to the moments when you notice that you've stepped back while in the middle of habitual ways of perceiving, thinking and reacting. This kind of pause is huge. This will help you stay in the pausing practice and, naturally, will help you to tap into a healthy desire to practice more and more. This is the kind of pause practice that gives you the major benefits of knowing yourself intimately, living intentionally, and experiencing deep happiness.

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© 2020 by Dr. Lisa Kentgen. 

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