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The practice of the pause

After a long holiday weekend, we start back wondering if we can stay relaxed. Somehow.

It wasn’t easy to get relaxed, for me — by Saturday, our company had moved on and I’d been looking forward to slowing down, but mostly I snacked and twitched and realized how tense and tight I was. Finally by the end of Sunday, after a real effort (ironic? oh, at least), I had pretty much relaxed. But that goodness will evaporate by mid-morning this Monday ... right?

Well ... probably. But does it have to?

I like to read about mindfulness and meditation practice, and there I find the concept of the pause. In her book Radical Acceptance, which is a really good one, therapist and meditation teacher Tara Brach calls it the sacred pause. The idea is simple: At times during your day, pause and take three conscious breaths. That’s all. It’s often not simple to remember to do ... but that’s all it is.

In his new book pause breathe smile, Gary Gach uses the concept of pausing to embrace the whole notion of intent — that we make an ongoing effort to live with more care and awareness. He frames pausing as one of three intersecting spheres of mindfulness practice; the others are “breathe,” which includes the sitting meditation, and “smile,” which embraces an attitude of kindness that can open into insight.

That’s a lot to think about, on a Monday morning, but it does bring me back to a good place to start. With the pause.

The more I try to remember to do this, the more I do. It really is simple: pause, wherever I am, and take three conscious breaths. The mind can wander far and away even after the first in-and-out! But the key is not to judge, just to come back. And the more I remember to do this little thing, here and there in my day, the less I do keep the the chance to open up to the day itself. Tension is a closing-up. Conscious breathing, in contrast, relaxes.

Really ... that’s it.

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