Take a Breath
Day 24: Employ the Sacred Pause
Once upon a time I lived in New York City, and, stereotypically enough, I had a therapist and I was always running late for everything.
“I’m SO sorry,” I said, coming into her cozy office on the upper west side. “The trains! They stopped the "2" for the longest time…” (Like any good New York City dweller I knew you could always blame your lateness on the subway.)
My therapist was unimpressed.
“So you only gave yourself enough time to get here if the trains were running perfectly?” (She was a real New Yorker, not a Midwestern transplant like me. She knew the trains never run perfectly.)
We had a good discussion that day about time and lateness. We discovered that I never gave myself extra time to get anywhere, because I hated arriving early.
“And what don’t you like about arriving early?” She wondered.“It’s a waste of time! If I’m only a few minutes early I can’t settle in and read in a significant way, so I’m losing productivity!”
Now at this point in my life I was a full time graduate student with two part time jobs, and I was involved in Occupy Wall Street as a Protest Chaplain. I really didn’t have a minute to spare. Or so I thought.
My therapist gave me a challenge: next time I went somewhere I should intentionally leave fifteen minutes earlier than I needed to.
That Sunday I left my quiet dorm room kitchen a good 20 minutes before I had the week before. Instead of rushing down 125th street, dodging sidewalk salespeople and getting shin splints from walking too fast, I just strolled along. “This feels good!” I thought. But when I got up to the train platform to take the Metro North commuter train up to Westchester County, I got annoyed. My train wasn’t coming for several minutes. Several minutes! I could have sipped my coffee more slowly. I could have lain in bed a few moments longer. I could have probably even sent one important email. But here I was, on a train platform, waiting to go to my job as a youth advisor at the Community Unitarian Church of White Plains, just wasting minutes.
You see, it’s not easy, learning how to pause, even when we manage to do it. We tend to live full and hectic lives, whether we’re full time students or full time parents, whether we live in a bustling city or a sprawling suburb. For many of us, pausing feels like a waste of our most precious resource: time.
But pausing is, indeed, sacred.
Pausing is good in and of itself. Pausing to collect yourself before an interview or a meeting. Pausing to take a breath during a heated debate. Pausing to appreciate the smell of the rain or the warmth of the sunshine or the smile of a loved one. All these types of pauses have positive effects.
But taking time to pause when we feel we have no time to spare has an additional benefit. It helps move us out of a model of scarcity into a model of abundance.
Financially speaking, when people feel resources are scarce they tend to pinch pennies, they give less. But often, by cultivating generosity people come to realize that they do have enough, that they can spare a little more.
It is a wondrous thing, feeling like we have enough. When we feel like we have enough money, enough time, enough energy, enough good qualities, when we know WE are enough just as we are, that’s when we can be our best selves. That’s when we can share, listen, reach out, and just love more fully.
I’m not saying it’s easy to live out of a sense of time-abundance. Time is a limited resource and many of us truly do not have enough of it in our day to accomplish what is expected of us. That is a reality.But I find that when I leave fifteen minutes earlier than I need to, when I spend twenty minutes on my lectio divina practice in the morning, when I take the time to focus on one task at a time, my life feels better. That doesn’t mean I always do it. There are still days when I leave too late and blame it on the traffic (the Bay Area equivalent to blaming it on the subway in New York). There are days when I dash off a personal email before starting work instead of opening the Bible. There are days when I frantically multi-task, talking on the phone while cooking dinner, missing part of my best friend’s story and burning the tofu in the process. It’s a daily struggle, as it is with most things worth doing. And it’s a good struggle, the constantly reminding myself that I have enough time. May each of us remember that we are enough and that we have enough time, no matter how busy we are, for moments of sacred pause.
Read how to practice sacred pause in your daily life, including a post by Teo Drake, and why it is part of reaching out in love on Day 24 of the 30 Days of Love Campaign on Standing on the Side of Love.