Mindfulness in Everyday Life   Proactive Mindfulness Resources

The pause that truly refreshes: Beginner's Mind

They used to talk about the pause that refreshes.
Try the pause without the bottle.
A pause is a chance to get a fresh look at things.
A gateway to mindfulness.

Sometimes, a pause is just that, a moment of no activity:
- For instance, while on a hike in the mountains, we take a moment to rest.
- Or, to take a more universal example: At the end of the day, we go to sleep.

But, wait a minute… Is that ‘just’ a moment of no activity, a neutral break after which activity resumes as if nothing had happened? Not really:
- After a rest, we feel re-energized and go back to hiking with renewed vigor.
- After a good night’s sleep, we wake up refreshed: Things that felt daunting the night before, when we were so tired, may now feel very obvious and easy.

In other words, the ‘pause that refreshes’ is a fundamental part of our biological experience of life. Taking a 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.

How can we get off the beaten track if we don’t see any side roads?
How can we think out of the box if we don’t even know we are in a box?

Taking a pause is an opportunity to notice what is new, and to deal with it. It's like being on a bicycle trip on a small road, where you can stop and visit any place that interests you… vs speeding through the landscape on a fast train, and everything whizzes by you, in a blur. It's like chewing on food to help the digestive process, instead of swallowing it whole. In other words, taking a mindful pause makes it easier to integrate experience.

Given how useful and natural it is to pause, how come we sometimes have such difficulty taking a pause?

It can be that we are in a "driven" mode, i.e. a sense of pressure, sometimes even panic. Our system is in fight-or-flight mode: any distraction feels wasteful or even downright dangerous.

It can also be that we are not aware that we are at a 'fork in the road', that another option might be possible. We have so internalized the status quo that we do not see any alternative to it (for instance, social pressure).

So there needs to be intentionality: While the pause is an integral part of our nature, there are powerful forces at play that prevent us at times from accessing this natural ability of ours. Hence, it is important to develop our awareness of these limitations, and our ability to pause.

One way to counteract the intense pressure that stop us from pausing is to pay attention to our bodily experience as we do so. See a specific approach, literally getting a grip.

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