The Power of Pause
Did you open the fridge this morning? She asks.
No, I reply.
Well, then it was sort of open all night.
I put that pan of peaches on the bottom shelf, she says, because they’re about to go bad—and…
But you can see [Here I demonstrate] the door doesn’t close.
Yes, but [Here she elbows me out of the way] if you just push it closed, it stays closed!
I can see a slight mist of moisture on everything. Damn. I am not sure how this is even possible since I have given the speech a hundred times and I was certain we were in agreement: You have to pack the fridge so that, in the end, the door closes on its own. If you have to force it to close, it will eventually be left slightly ajar.
I nearly gave that speech for the 101st time, but miraculously I paused*. I mean literally. Without a miracle my manic self automatically leaps to self-righteous justification. Listen to me! I told you so!
Somehow in that moment I was able to pause, long enough to take a breath, to see how futile and silly it all was, to recognize there were other options open to me. I know very well that the fruit of contemplative prayer is the power to let go—I just constantly fail to recognize the little mundane engagements that invite me to actually do that. Countless wisdom teachers have noted that the daily meditation practice of releasing our insistent thoughts is what is preparing us—gradually, one day at a time—to let go in the face of greater and greater fears, to finally release our own lives at the end. I love the idea of that…it’s just that, you know, when someone fails to properly pack the fridge, that’s a separate deal. That doesn’t count.
*P.S. My friend, spiritual director Caroline Oakes has written a whole book on this nanosecond of decision, called Practice the Pause. Using both neuroscience and Jesus’ model of prayer, Oakes demonstrates how contemplative practices in every spiritual tradition literally train our brains to work in a new way. In that split-second between auto-thought and knee-jerk reaction, we have a moment to pause. When we can do that, the latest research demonstrates, our brains are able to break the old patterns, fire a different set of neurons and literally re-wire our brains. In other words, modern neuroscience is confirming what prayer masters have known for thousands of years.