The Power of Pause

Emily Dickinson wrote, “To live is so startling it leaves but little room for other occupations” yet how easy it is to be more startled by our occupations than living our lives. We slide into the demand of our daily requirements, although all of the ancient traditions advise observation–the power of pause—in order to act rather than react.

Dave R Farmer Image
WANA Commons

The power of pause allows us to trust the skies to clear, the fog to dissipate. It is the quiet courage of the heart resonating throughout our bodies while our heads consider whether or not to act. The power of pause requires us to listen as if we were hearing for the first time. It is that crisp, that charged.

The power of pause resides not in analysis but in awareness, a reach into the unknown. It requires us to empty our minds much like Randall Jarrell’s bored, sick child who entreats existence, “all that I’ve never thought of think of me.” It is a trusted leap from comfort to change, embarking on the voyage in to all that we are.

Within in each one of us, there is a unique, natural rhythm to living our lives. Only we can discover our own flow, our tributary that connects us to all life. It is a “startling” discovery, not lending itself to a life of daily lists or to the inertia of self-absorption but to commitment without being attached to its outcome. We take a breath, go “all in” and we’re in the moment.

Rather than outcome, we focus on the emotions not ruled by ego–compassion, gratitude, love, and joy–for they emerge from the thoughtfulness requisite to the power of pause. We go within ourselves to discover the best we have for the world outside of us and then deliver.

The power of pause requires us to quiet ourselves, to allow the storm of the world to swirl round the calm eye of our lives. In the stillness, we discover who we are beyond the business of the world of to-do lists. In the moment that it takes to breathe, we feel the spark of us–our own light–reveal our way.

There is a well-known story regarding two scientists who travel halfway around the world to meet with a Hindu Sage, eager to hear the Sage’s thoughts on their theories. They meet in the Sage’s garden. He pours tea and continues pouring although the cups overflow with the tea.

Finally, one of the scientists says, “‘Your holiness, the cups can hold no more.’  The Sage stops pouring and says, ‘Your minds are like the cups. You know too much. Empty your minds and come back. Then we’ll talk'”(Leroy Little Bear in The Book of Awakening).

No matter how frequently we revisit various versions of the two scientists and the Sage, the light of awareness flashes: empty our minds so we may live our life aware of our breath, as we begin yet again.

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white
chickens. (“The Red Wheelbarrow,” William Carlos Williams)

21 thoughts on “The Power of Pause

  1. Great post. So essential to slow down and be alone, both of which are now (!) radically counter-cultural. I am taking 2 weeks “off” right now (yet today involved three work-related calls) to try and find a sense of this, alone and uninterrupted. No TV. Trying to decouple from the computer…


  2. Just catching up with this post – very apt as my week has been a mad dash around the country overflowing my cup! The power of pause is and always has been something I need to keep reminding myself of. These words and images are so apt. You are constantly renewing my spiritual side Karen! Thank you again.


    1. As you have been out and about, perhaps we will be treated to more of your art? I so look forward to your trips. Among other reasons, I wrote this post as a public reminder to myself as well. Thanks, Diana!



  3. The power of the pause is most important right now. We have always lived in radical uncertainty. May the powers that be read your article!


  4. Another wonderful post, Karen. Thank you for reminding us to remain in the moment. I loved the reference of the cups of tea overflowing, such a perfect analogy. Have a peaceful day!


  5. The power of pause – of pausing to reason, to think, to let things gain proportion – even to draw breath – seems a scarce luxury in a world wired with its instant messaging and expectations of constant action, entertainment and hustle. And yet, as you show us, it is so very important – just to be quiet, for a while. A lesson, I think, that needs to be taught widely. Thank you for sharing!


    1. Stillness is such a great teacher, as you indicate, Matthew. Maybe we all can pass on a a quiet reminder, from time to time. We can consider it a perk of having such an immediate connection to one another.



    1. Wish I could claim to know that William Carlos Williams’ birthday was September 17 yet the coincidence of the post is a thrill for I place a great deal of importance in coincidence. Thank you, Ann!



  6. So hard to do when the world is so loud, so collective, so suddenly wired together as if we were one entity.

    Quiet, literal quiet is a necessity in my life–but I seem to be more and more alone and freakish in this desire–forgive me Karen, I just went to a writer’s festival and went to some of those “build your brand” workshops. Everything demands that we shout louder, add neon to our “look at me” signs, add a bonus room to the ego.

    Fortunately, you also like quiet. I expect, one day, to have the supreme pleasure of sitting down with you and staring at a flower for a really long time. Sounds like a party to me.


    1. Now that’s a party I would enjoy, and afterward, we would talk for hours about what a party it was. I couldn’t agree more with you about the white neon noise you so aptly describe.



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