Walpole UU Church September 20, 2015
By Jessica Walsh O’Connor
The word Pause according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary is defined as: "a
temporary stop, a brief suspension, a temporary inaction, to linger for a time." It has been
within the past few years that I’ve been exploring the word pause and all it means in our
In the winter of 2007 I was offered the opportunity to participate in an intensive
culture change workshop for my job. The curriculum that I was learning and expected to
facilitate and bring back to my organization focused on positive communication strategies. One
of the goals in “The Coaching Approach to Communication” is to intentionally pull back, and
pause before speaking.
It is said that when people are fueled by their emotions and don’t take the time to consider all that surrounds
them in a given situation that interactions can easily become negatively charged. Pausing is the first step of
pulling back which is a form of selfmanagement.
First, we notice.
First one should pause and notice what is going on for them in the given
moment. Second is to place the emotions and thoughts aside. The third step is to refocus.
This is not something that comes automatic however can be done with measured intentionality.
After spending a few years teaching this coaching philosophy I came to think of practicing pause
as something similar to short meditations.
The Author, Tara Brach, of the book "Radical Acceptance" explains:
“In our lives we often find ourselves in situations we can’t control, circumstances in which none
of our strategies work. Helpless and distraught, we frantically try to manage what is happening.
Our child takes a downward turn in academics, and we issue one threat after another to get
him in line. Someone says something hurtful to us, and we strike back quickly or retreat.
"We make a mistake at work, and we scramble to cover it up or go out of our way to make up for it.
We head into emotionally charged confrontations nervously rehearsing and strategizing. The
more we fear failure the more frenetically our bodies and minds work. We fill our days with
continual movement: mental planning and worrying, habitual talking, fixing, scratching,
adjusting, phoning, snacking, discarding, buying, and looking in the mirror.
"What would it be like if, right in the midst of this busyness, we were to consciously take our
hands off the controls? What if we were to intentionally stop our mental computations and our
rushing around and, for a minute or two, simply pause and notice our inner experience.”
This selection really resonated with me as I think how often I find myself overly busy and
functioning almost in a reactionary place. I have always been a busy person playing sports and
joining many clubs throughout high school. In college I worked full time while earning my
degree. When I started working in human services 11 years ago I piled on as many tasks as
possible, always saying yes to just one more committee, one more project.
At this time busy was not only the theme for my professional life but personally as well.
Within a few weeks of graduating college I married my wonderful husband and we began our family
by purchasing a fixer upper-house and rescuing two dogs. It wasn’t long after that our house filled with the
blessings of our two boys, Quinn and Keegan. Somedays it seems to be a never ending juggling
act to balance the demands of work, parenting, family and community commitments. I
sometimes wonder how people seem to manage to do it all and still have a reserve of positive
energy. This is where practicing pause comes into play.
Tara Brach, continues to say that “a pause is a suspension of activity, a time of temporary
disengagement when we are no longer moving toward any goal… we stop asking ‘what do I do
next?’… We may pause when we feel suddenly moved or delighted or saddened, allowing the
feelings to play through our heart. In a pause we simply discontinue whatever we are doing, thinking,
talking, walking, writing, planning, worrying, eating- and become wholeheartedly
present, attentive and, often physically still.”
A pulling back
Practicing pause can be a way to pull back from the overwhelming and emotionally charged
situations yet it also can be a way to notice the beauty around us in the present moment. A
pause can be to take a moment to breath in the warmth of the sun, the music of the organ, the
beauty of nature, the flavors of a delicious meal, the first sip of coffee in a quite house before
anyone else wakes, watching a baby take its first breath. Pause can be filled with intentions of
action, with curiosity, with gratefulness, or simply to notice what is happening for you or
As part of my training I was introduced to the work of the Buddhist month Thich Nhat Hanh. He
talks about how in his tradition each time a temple bell is heard it reminds him to pause and
return to the present moment. In his book “Peace is Every Step” he talks about how to use a
sound, such a Church bell, or even the seat belt buzzer in your car as a call to practice pause.
He explains “When the bell rings, I stop talking, and all of us listen to the full sound of the bell… we
can pause and enjoy our breathing and get in touch with the wonders of life that are around usthe
flowers, the children, the beautiful sounds. Every time we get back in touch with ourselves,
the conditions become favorable for us to encounter life in the present moment.” He goes on
to say that “everyone should take the time to enjoy being alive! We should not just be rushing
around all day.”
When we are intentional about taking a pause and noticing ourselves and the world around us
Thich Nhat Hanh suggests that we also add a smile to this practice.
I’d like to read a poem from his book Being Peace:
“Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know
this is a wonderful moment.” He provides some explanation of this poem: “breathing in, I calm
my body.’ Is like drinking a glass of ice water- you feel the cold, the freshness, permeate your
body. When I breathe in and recite this line, I actually feel the breathing calming my body,
calming my mind. ‘Breathing out, I smile.’ You know the effect of a smile. A smile can relax
hundreds of muscles in your face, and relax your nervous system. A smile makes you master
So as our lives continue to be filled with tasks, joys, sorrows, and never ending to-do lists I urge
you to join me in thinking about taking time to pause. To build in an intention to notice, to
breathe, to smile, and simply be with yourself and the world around you.
And as Thich Nhat Hanh becomes inspired with the ringing bell, I shall make this noise as an
invitation to take a moment, this moment to pause, breathing in, breathing out, smiling, and