It all starts with a mindful pause

mindful pause
Photo: Serge Prengel

Walking on the beach, I am amazed by how graceful the birds are. Graceful is a good word. It’s not just that their presence feels calm and harmonious; it feels like a state of grace. So different from the tension and jaggedness that is often our lot in life.

The birds are relaxed but not daydreaming. If I had any doubts about that, it is quickly dispelled when I walk toward them. In an instant, they fly away. It’s not panic: It’s just that there is a time to be still and a time to fly away.

Would I want to be a bird?

No, thanks; I like being a person. But I want more of that calm and harmony in my life. A sense of relaxed alertness, being present and poised without being tense.

More of a sense of connection with others and the world. A felt sense of meaning and purpose.

Searching for meaning and purpose in abstract philosophical discourse or spiritual platitudes is such a waste of time. In contrast, it feels so good when I feel it in my bones.

I feel it, and then I lose it. Trying to hang on to it, or pushing hard to get it back, doesn’t work. Like trying to run after your shadow to grasp it, and it’s always ahead of you no matter how fast you run.

It takes a pause

Pausing for a human being is not like what happens when you pause a video, and it’s the same video when you resume playing it. Something happens when we pause. Most of the time, it’s so subtle we don’t notice it unless we have developed our ability to sense it.

Being present in our life is not a mystical notion. It is the down-to-earth practice of listening to what happens inside. We all have that ability. It withers away when we don’t use it, and it grows when we cultivate it. 

This is what I call the active pause

It is the moment when change is possible. Again, I cannot emphasize enough how this is a down-to-earth reality, not a mystical concept. 

I will give you some concrete examples. If you train in baseball or playing tennis, your coach will tell you: You have more time than you think, don’t flail, and get into the proper position to hit the ball. If you take skiing lessons, your instructor will tell you: You have more time than you think to prepare for the turn. Your ski instructor will also help you find embodied ways to prepare for the turn, such as focusing on shifting your weight in a specific way.

We learn this by practicing time and again in sports as in life. There are many ways to practice, and each one helps you a bit with the others, the same way that being physically fit helps you in all sports. But we also need specific practice: baseball training will not do much to improve your skiing skills.

In practice

Will practice make us superhuman? Certainly not in my case. I am an ordinary human being with my full quota of human limitations. But this journey has made me better at facing challenges and enjoying life. More able to distinguish between what I can change and what I can’t, and more focused on what I can change.

I invite you to join these creative explorations

Don’t just daydream about the possibility of change. Do something about it.

A good first step is to subscribe to the newsletter, where I share with you creative approaches to mindful change. Invite a friend or a small group to join you in a practice group.

On this site, I am offering tools to understand active pause and practice it. This includes articles, practices you can do on your own or with friends, as well as events and courses for the general public and for therapists. Take a look at current events.

The site also provides a larger context: a podcast that has been going on for over 10 years, featuring stimulating conversations with therapists, mindfulness practitioners, and other thoughtful people.

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