Though I’ve been practicing mindfulness for several years, I still find it a challenge to remember the value of slowing down and pausing in the midst of a busy day. My company requires careful attention, and my customers and employees deserve my continued efforts on their behalf. Decisions with major repercussions need to be made, often quickly. All of that can add up to a hectic schedule with plenty of stress, and there is usually an equal amount happening on the home front, as well (especially with five kids!)
I find that taking what Tara Brach calls a Sacred Pause can not only save time in the end, but it can improve the odds that we are making decisions not only quickly, but wisely. In Brach’s bestselling book, Radical Acceptance, she makes a case for the way Sacred Pauses can open us up to new ways to respond that we hadn’t seen before.
If a boss storms into your office and unleashes on you, it might be your natural tendency to push back. Or, you may choose not to say anything and just let your resentment build up. Pausing to reflect on what you’re feeling and not reacting to your first impulse (whether it’s speaking out or avoiding) gives you a moment to consider what’s going on and then make a wise choice.
Whether it’s a conscious breath, an hour’s meditation, or a month-long sabbatical, pausing can help us reset. In the heated political climate that surrounds us, it’s more important than ever to react from a grounded place. As Brach says, “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.” The shift that’s created by a simple, intentional pause can help us be more present, more connected, and more confident of our choices.
Similar to a ‘gut check,’ a Sacred Pause can keep us safer, too. According to Gavin de Becker’s excellent book, The Gift of Fear, the mistake many people make that puts their safety at risk is ignoring the inner voice that tells them something isn’t right. If a woman walking down a dark street senses that the man approaching is a threat, it’s better to give her instinct full consideration than dismiss the thought. She may ultimately decide to cross to the other side of the street—or she may realize that her fear is exaggerated—but regardless, she will have acknowledged the voice inside her.
If you’d like to take a pause in your day, I recommend a simple breathing exercise, known as Foursquare: breathe in for two counts, hold for two counts, breathe out for two counts, hold for two counts. As with all things in the practice of mindfulness, there is not right or perfect way to do it. It’s not about trying to relax or change a mood, though that might be the result. It’s simply about clearing some space.