Pause for a Moment

by Elizabeth deGraw Renna

Pause, noun and verb

– To cease or suspend an action temporarily; linger or hesitate

– A temporary cessation
– A hesitation
– In music, a sign indicating that a note or rest is to be held

I didn’t use to be as aware of the moments in my life that held meaning for me, not like I am now. I had to teach myself, in a sense, how to pause, how to suspend my activity for a few minutes and just BE. “Lingering” wasn’t easy and it still takes intentional practice.

A few years ago I started to read a book titled “The Joy Diet” by Martha Beck. I had really enjoyed another book by this author, called “Finding Your Own North Star – Claiming the life you were meant to live”. I found her to be very “readable”, with ideas that got me thinking and challenged me as well. I enjoyed her catch-you-by-surprise sense of humor as well. So I began reading “The Joy Diet” quite eagerly. But then I got stuck.

One of the first ingredients in her prescribed diet for increasing the joy in your life was to practice doing nothing for 15 minutes every day. She wrote about the challenges inherent in that suggestion – or requirement, really. She acknowledged that her readers were going to find it difficult and challenging. She was right. I was caught up in an almost workaholic approach to life at that time in which I had an unconscious impulse to make every moment productive in some way. I was so used to being busy that I could barely imagine sitting and doing nothing for 15 minutes. I also couldn’t figure out when I’d have time to actually fit in those 15 minutes. Wow, really?

I set the book aside, all those years ago, feeling stuck by my inability to practice the first step in a process that was being suggested by an author whose ideas had inspired me before and who I wanted to continue being inspired by. Eventually the book went back on a bookshelf; it’s still waiting for me to read it.

But the good news is that another book, describing another idea, came along at just the right time. It was one of those moments of synchronicity, when the combination of current life events (some very difficult) and this set of new ideas in both book form and musical form came together and provided a solution that I could imagine myself using.

The book “Seven Sacred Pauses – Living mindfully through the hours of the day” is written by a Benedictine nun, Macrina Wiederkehr. She is a monastic nun who has practiced the Divine Office or Prayer of the Hours for many, many years. She took that Christian practice and has created a book that is accessible to people of any religious or spiritual belief. The idea, basically, is to take the time to pause at specific times throughout the day in order to slow down and “embrace the gift of the present moment” (page 2). A friend and colleague of hers, Velma Frye, created a companion CD titled “Seven Sacred Pauses: Singing mindfully dawn through dark”.

I had been offered an invitation to pause, to essentially do nothing but be prayerful in some way, but in a way that had some structure to it. I thrive with structure and routine. I began to try adding pauses to my day, starting with an intentional pause in the morning before going to work and another pause at the end of the day before going to bed. The more you practice anything, the easier it gets. Pausing, and doing nothing, began to be something I could do. And soon it became addictive and I craved those pauses.

A much-loved relative and I traveled to Arkansas one early spring to attend a Seven Sacred Pauses Retreat led by this monastic nun whose book had introduced us to the concept of pausing. The woman who wrote the songs relating to those seven times of the day was a co-facilitator of the retreat. The experience included 24 hours of Silent Retreat in which we talked to no one else, even during the meals we shared together and sessions with the facilitators. My favorite moment, on a cold and rainy day in Arkansas, was when the nun instructed all of us to “go collect light”. A challenging direction it seemed, given the nature of the day. But I was amazed at how much light I was able to find in the environment around me, simply by looking around me in different ways.

Pausing is now a much more ingrained habit for me but it really does take practice and intentionality on my part. I count some of my moments as “pauses” when I am sipping tea in the morning and writing in my Journal. My favorite pauses occur when I am sitting outside, anywhere, and observing nature. I suspend all activity except watching, listening, and breathing and I wait to see what comes. Lingering does not come naturally, but I gain so much when I practice my pausing.

“Seven Sacred Pauses – Living mindfully through the hours of the day” by Macrina Wiederkehr. Published by Sorin Books, Notre Dame, Indiana. It is a featured book of Spiritual Book Associates,

“Seven Sacred Pauses: Singing mindfully dawn through dark” by Velma Frye.