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Blog: Freedom Finds Us When We Pause

Jul 23, 2012

“Temporary nirvana.”

This is how contemporary Thai Buddhist teacher Ajahan Buddhadasa describes the precious interludes between all our “doing;” those times when we pause, and are not grasping after our experience, or resisting it. He writes that without such moments of inner freedom, “… living things would either die or become insane. Instead, we survive because there are natural periods of coolness, of wholeness and ease. In fact, they last longer than the fires of our grasping and fear. It is this that sustains us.”

We incline ourselves toward this healing freedom by practicing to pause again and again. At the very moment when we’re about to lash out in verbal outrage, we can stop. When we feel anxious, instead of turning on the TV or making a phone call or mentally obsessing, we can sit still and feel our discomfort or restlessness. In this pause we can let go of thinking and doing, and we become intimate with what is happening in our body, heart and mind.

Pausing as a technique may feel unfamiliar, awkward or at odds with our usual way of living. But actually there are many moments—showering, walking, driving—when we release our preoccupations and are simply aware and letting life be.

We may pause at seeing the new green in spring; or in the supermarket we may pause to gaze at the freshness of an infant’s face. When we finally understand a problem we’ve been grappling with, our pause may be a sigh as our body and mind relax. At the end of a long day, we may experience a natural pause when we lie down in bed and let everything go.

We can also purposefully pause during regular activities. I often pause before getting out of my car and simply feel what is going on inside me. Sometimes after I hang up the phone, I’ll just sit at my desk, breathing, listening, not doing the next thing. Or I might stop cleaning the house for a moment and simply listen to the music I’d put on to keep myself company.

We can choose to pause on the top of a mountain or in a subway, while we are with others or meditating alone.

The pauses in our life make our experience full and meaningful. The well-known pianist Arthur Rubinstein was once asked, “How do you handle the notes as well as you do?” His response was immediate and passionate, “I handle notes no better than many others, but the pauses—ah! That is where the art resides.”

Like a rest note in a musical score, the pure stillness of a pause forms the background that lets the foreground take shape with clarity and freshness. The moment that arises out of the pause can, like the well-sounded note, reflect the genuineness, the wholeness, the truth of who we are.

Pausing is also the gateway to Radical Acceptance. In the midst of a pause, we are giving room and attention to the life that is always streaming through us, the life that is habitually overlooked. It is in this rest that we realize the natural freedom of our heart and awareness. This is not something we need to look for; it’s right here. We need only commit ourselves to arriving, here and now, with wholehearted presence—and it naturally finds us

From Radical Acceptance (2003)

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