The light switches to red. Frustrated, I stop, looking at my watch. “Why do I have all those red lights today? Really bad luck. I will be late again for class,” says the voice in my head. My body is tensed. I’m holding my breath, waiting for green with suspense. I notice I’ve been rushing all day like a “chicken without a head” we say in my home country, Belgium. And then I remember…
I take a deep breath in and out. Relax my shoulders and belly. My feet are firmly planted on the ground. I instantly feel better. The red light has become a sacred pause in my day. One that has the power to change the course of my life if I remember to lean into the moment instead of resisting it.
There are so many opportunities during our day to pause and consciously relax. Whether it is in front of a traffic light, when the phone rings, going to the bathroom, rocking our baby to sleep, waiting in line at the grocery store, etc. We are stuck there anyway so why not transform that moment into a “sacred pause”?
Maybe you even find yourself rushing through this article. Pause for a moment.
Feel your feet on the ground.
Take a deep breath in. Pause at the top.
Exhale without control, relax your body.
When we are able to pause in those seemingly more neutral moments, we create a positive habit. Our ability to be mindful is like a muscle that becomes stronger the more we practice. Over time, we are then able to pause when we face more intense challenges: receiving feedback from our boss, unsolicited advice from our mother-in-law, blame from our partner, etc. We sometimes react impulsively in those moments saying or doing things we regret afterwards. Welcome to being human! If we can pause in the midst of the storm for even one or two breaths, we will be able to choose our response. Viktor E. Frankl says it beautifully: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom”.
According to Thich Nath Hanh (TNH), Zen Buddhist teacher, no transformation can take place without stopping. One of his mantras is “stopping, calming, resting, healing, transforming”. You cannot rush your healing. You need to create space for it to happen. TNH says that when we relax, we “become calm water, and we will reflect reality as it is. If we’re not calm, the image we reflect will be distorted. When the image is distorted by our minds, it’s not the reality, and it causes lots of suffering.”
So why is pausing so difficult? Firstly, this continuous race is a habit. We are on auto-pilot, meaning that we are not even aware of it. Often, we are more of a “human doing” instead of a “human being”.
Secondly, much of our doing is driven by our primitive brain saying: “There is something wrong. We need to do something. Something is missing.” Activity gives us a sense of control.
My sense of identity as a yoga teacher or coach was on hold for that period. One day, I listened to a talk from Tara Brach, a wonderful Buddhist teacher, on “The Sacred Pause”: “Just stop. Really stop. Come home to this being. You don’t have to try to be aware. The awareness is what you are. And pausing is just a relaxing back to inhabit it.” I felt such a relief that it was ok for me to take that pause with my little angel Tao.
If you find yourself trapped in the race of life, pause. Ask yourself: “why am I rushing?
Can I enjoy the journey of life instead of wanting to get to the finish line? Am I really present to what matters to me?” Each pause allows us to start anew. To become a new person, one we have chosen to be. And if you look deeply enough, you will see that whatever you are running after is already within you.