The Sacred Pause

In the midst of daily life there are other simple ways to take a “mini sacred pause,” bring awareness to what is alive here and now, and relax into presence. It is very easy—amidst the stress, busyness and demands of modern life—to live much of our time on autopilot, leaning into the future or ruminating on the past, dislocated from our lives in this moment.

A daily or regular formal meditation practice helps us to remember that true peace and freedom are to be found in being fully present, here and now. We can also cultivate awareness in the activities of our lives using a “sacred pause.”

To take a sacred pause, choose a time when you’re involved in a goal-oriented activity – reading, working on the computer, cleaning, eating – and experiment with pausing. Begin by discontinuing what you are doing, sitting comfortably, and allowing your eyes to close. Take a few deep breaths, and with each exhalation let go of any worries or thoughts about what you are going to do next. Let go of any tightness in the body.

Now notice what you are experiencing as you inhabit the pause. What sensations are you aware of in your body? Do you feel anxious or restless as you try to step out of your mental stories? Do you feel pulled to resume your activity? Can you allow, for this moment, whatever is happening inside?In the midst of daily life there are other simple ways to take a “mini sacred pause,” bring awareness to what is alive here and now, and relax into presence:

  • The telephone as a meditation bell: When the telephone rings, take a few seconds to use the sound to be fully in your body. Relax any muscles that may be contracted, especially in the face, mouth, and jaw. Inhale and exhale more deeply for a breath or two, and then answer the call.
  • Download a “mindfulness bell” to your computer that rings at regular or random intervals. When the bell sounds, take your hands from the keyboard, bring your attention to bodily sensations, and take three or four full breaths to come home. (Find a downloadable mindfulness bell at the Washington Mindfulness Community here.) 
  • Three-Breath-Break: When you become aware that you’ve been focusing on an activity for an extended period, or are transitioning between activities, take a three-breath-break. Pause and take three deep breaths, intentionally breathing into the belly. Allow the abdomen to expand. Relax and release any places of tightness or tension in the body with each exhalation and know you are here.
  • Red Stoplight as a Pause: When driving (or walking in an area with pedestrian signals), use the occasion of each red stoplight as an opportunity to pause. Depending on the situation, you can use the moment to breathe more deeply and release places of tension or contraction in the body.
  • Mindful listening: While listening and maintaining awareness in conversation, bring your attention to the ‘felt sense’ in your body that accompanies and responds to the conversation. Let go of any tightness in the body and bring a responsive openness to what the other is saying.
  • Mindful walking: When walking from one place to another, let the walking be a sacred pause in the workday. Use the moments of walking as an opportunity to become fully present by bringing awareness to the sensations in the body and consciously letting go of the day’s to-do list.

Integrating mindful principles into daily life for just 5 minutes a day over 3 weeks resulted in significant reductions in stress and increases in life satisfaction, positive relations with others, and environmental mastery, according to a recent study.

Whenever you feel stuck or disconnected, you can begin your life fresh in the moment by pausing, relaxing, and paying attention to your immediate experience using the sacred pause.


(Editor's note: This article was originally published in the ENews, January 2008.)

It is the mission of IMCW/The Insight Meditation Community of Washington is to support the awakening of hearts and minds through the direct experience of the Buddhist path, and the integration and manifestation of wisdom and compassion in all aspects of life, for the benefit of all beings.

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