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Bring the Mindful Pause (Pause Practice) into your Life

In an ideal world, we could maintain mindfulness, or present living, all the time. Yes, we all lead busy, complex lives, but we can work toward being more aware of the beautiful life we have! Try the pause practice/mindful pause right now and see how you feel, awaken to your surroundings, or be present.

“Pause practice can transform each day of your life. It creates an open doorway to the sacredness of the place in which you find yourself. The vastness, stillness, and magic of the place will dawn upon you, if you let your mind relax and drop for just a few breaths the storyline you are working so hard to maintain. If you pause just long enough, you can reconnect with exactly where you are, with the immediacy of your experience.” — Pema Chödrön

The Basic Pause Practice/Mindful Pause:

With your mouth closed, tune in to your breath. Simply take three conscious breaths at any moment when you notice you are drowning in thoughts or overwhelmed in emotion.

Feel your breath coming in and out rather than thinking about the breath. Deliberately slow your breathing down and then just allow your breath to assume its own natural rhythm. You don’t need to force it in any way.

Just be where you are! Let the pause practice be like popping a bubble. Let it be just a moment in time, and then go on with your day.

Over time you can develop multiple triggers to pause, but at first, use any transition as the main trigger. As you begin to train your awareness of stress, you will interrupt this more quickly and choose to pause.

Or just integrate it into whatever you are doing. Are you about to start your day? Eating lunch? Driving home from work? Doing house-cleaning? Playing with your children? The Pause brings you into the moment regardless of what you’re doing.

Regardless of what is going on in your head, the mindful pause can bring on the relaxation response and enable clearer thinking, opening up more choice and restoring a calmer you

The pause practice usually lasts about 15 seconds but if you want you can also extend your pause and stay in your breathing for a few minutes.

The improved version of the Pause Practice/Mindful Pause:

It is very common for all mindfulness practices, including the pause practice we are explaining here, to start turning into the complete opposite of what mindfulness is all about.

Mindful pauses should be used as a way to refresh and re-energize what is happening around and inside us. However, these pauses are very often used as a way to take a break and distance ourselves from what is happening around & inside us (avoidance). This is the complete opposite of what our mindfulness practice should be used for.

In order to avoid this common trap and make sure our minds are not running free in their habitual patterns and responses, we are going to include a second step in our pause practice which will ensure we are staying present and at the same time we are improving our quality of living & the state of our minds.

Instead of a distancing break, we want to use the pause to open ourselves to the intimacy of presence. Far from closing off, this intimacy is wide and deep, lending a perspective that can be wonderfully and helpfully informative.

The second step will be to conclude our practice with a simple reflection question:

“Which of my character strengths will I bring forward right now?“

There are 24 character strengths we can pick from, which are usually divided into 6 categories (virtues). So we can even pick a whole virtue if that represents us better at that moment.

What we are doing here is that we refocus and get clarity on what matters most at that moment. This helps us remember we have tools that can be immediately used.

We included a list of the 24 character strengths & 6 virtues for you below.

Click to expand:

Virtue of Wisdom and Knowledge

CreativityCuriosityOpen-mindedness & JudgmentLove of LearningPerspective and Wisdom

Virtue of Courage

BraveryPersistence & PerseveranceIntegrity & HonestyVitality & Zest

Virtue of Humanity

LoveKindnessSocial intelligence

Virtue of Justice


Virtue of Temperance

Forgiveness and mercyHumility and modestyPrudenceSelf-Regulation and Self-control

Virtue of Transcendence

Appreciation of beauty and excellenceGratitudeHopeHumor and playfulnessSpirituality, or a sense of purpose


Now the Pause not only brings you into the moment. It also brings forth your best strength(s) & lets you reclaim responsibility regardless of what you’re doing.

“Pause before judging. Pause before assuming. Pause before accusing. Pause whenever you’re about to react harshly and you’ll avoid doing and saying things you’ll later regret.” — Lori Deschene

So let’s combine the above steps:

  1. Pause and take your 3 conscious breaths.
  2. Then ask yourself the question: Which of my character strengths will I bring forward right now?
  3. Gradually open your awareness back out to your surroundings and take this calm & virtue with you as you move on with your day or your task at hand.

Here is my challenge for you:

Make space. Make it the most important thing that you do each day, each morning, afternoon, and evening to punctuate the endless script in your head with pauses, creating space to be present.

If you were the sky, these pauses would be like small gaps created in the clouds. Many small gaps can create one gigantic gap that can envelop your entire life so that the continuity is no longer the mind’s rambling, but one continual gap of mindfulness.

“The real practice is your life” — Jon Kabat-Zinn


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