From Mindless To Mindful: Active Pause
Ordinarily, what we call "pause" is a moment where activity is suspended. We associate such a pause with a blank. This is the case when we listen to music, or stream a movie. If we put it on pause for a moment, then restart it, we are not changing the content in any way. So we tend to think of a pause as essentially innocuous.
But things are different when it is not a machine, but a human being, that pauses. Taking a mindful pause is an opportunity to stop being on automatic pilot (i.e. being mindless). To make space for the possibility of seeing things differently. To be surprised by what we now see or how we feel about it. To re-orient, to renegotiate our relationship with our environment. It is Beginner’s Mind, in a good way, in the sense that Shunryu Suzuki talked about: Being open to what really is, as opposed to being prisoner of our preconceptions.
So, the pause we're talking about here may look and feel gentle... But, under its deceptively mild appearance, it is not just a blank, but an intentional rupture from the flow of things as they currently are. What makes it work is that it is a major disruptor. It is a shock to the system, very much akin to what happens when you take a wrong turn and your GPS has to recompute the road.
There is no reason for the GPS to recompute the road unless there is a disruption. Similarly, there is no reason for the human mind to get off "automatic pilot" unless something drastic happens. Remember that the vast majority of our mental processes happen below awareness. We simply could not function if we had to consciously monitor everything. So the "mindless" mode is highly functional. This is why it takes a jolt to step out of mindless mode and shift to mindful mode.
It takes the experience of disorientation to get our internal GPS to kick in. This is an internal navigation system, a natural process that was honed by millions of years of evolution. We instinctively do it, but it needs to be activated by the experience of temporary disorientation: The pause, during which we intentionally stop going by our "autopilot" assumptions.
See more: Functional definitions of mindfulness.
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