The Practice of the Holy Pause

Editors' Note: This article is part of the Patheos Public Square on Slow Living. Read other perspectives here.

Modern life seems to move at full speed and many of us can hardly catch our breath between the demands of earning a living, nurturing family and friendships, and the hundreds of small daily details like paying our bills, cleaning, grocery shopping. More and more we feel stretched thin by commitments and lament our busyness, but without a clear sense of the alternative. There is no space left to consider other options and the idea of heading off on a retreat to ponder new possibilities may be beyond our reach.

But there are opportunities for breathing spaces within our days. The monastic tradition invites us into the practice of stopping one thing before beginning another. It is the acknowledgment that in the space of transition and threshold is a sacred dimension, a holy pause full of possibility. What might it be like to allow just a ten-minute window to sit in silence between appointments? Or after finishing a phone call or checking your email to take just five long, slow, deep breaths before pushing on to the next thing?

We often think of these in-between times as wasted moments and inconveniences, rather than opportunities to return again and again, to awaken to the gifts right here, not the ones we imagine waiting for us beyond the next door. But what if we built in these thresholds between our daily activities, just for a few minutes to intentionally savor silence and breath?

When we pause between activities or moments in our day, we open ourselves to the possibility of discovering a new kind of presence to the "in-between times." When we rush from one thing to another, we skim over the surface of life losing that sacred attentiveness that brings forth revelations in the most ordinary of moments.

We are continually crossing thresholds in our lives, both the literal kind when moving through doorways, leaving the building, or going to another room, as well as the metaphorical thresholds, when time becomes a transition space of waiting and tending. We hope for news about a friend struggling with illness, we are longing for clarity about our own deepest dreams. This place between is a place of stillness, where we let go of what came before and prepare ourselves to enter fully into what comes next.

The holy pause calls us to a sense of reverence for slowness, for mindfulness, and for the fertile dark spaces between our goals where we can pause and center ourselves, and listen. We can open up a space within for God to work. We can become fully conscious of what we are about to do rather than mindlessly completing another task.

The holy pause can also be the space of integration and healing. How often do we rush through our lives, not allowing the time to gather the pieces of ourselves, to allow our fragmented selves the space of coming together again? When we allow rest, we awaken to the broken places that often push us to keep doing and producing and striving.

Pause right now and give yourself over to deepening your breath for five full cycles and just notice how you feel after a minute of practice. Could you offer yourself this gift of pausing before each new activity for the span of a day and just notice what happens? What do you discover when you simply stop and enter into your own experience? When we create these tiny windows and opportunities for recognition, we are able to see grace more easily moving through our lives.