The significant point is that when you can’t get what you want, your underlying tendencies to get exasperated or feel let down come up – and they then interpret the situation as ‘lazy disorganized people’ or ‘no one considers my feelings’.
Actually there are generally a number of causes as to why things don’t go my way — the Buddha just called it ‘dukkha’ – but the immediate reaction and interpretation are an indication of tendencies in one’s own mind. So just to pause at that point – reactions are normal, but we can read them, learn what they are, and that they take us into suffering.
We don’t have to guess at why things aren’t going according to plan; and jumping to a conclusion is always a move into the shadows of one’s own mind. So, pause. A pause is not a disapproval or a judgement; it’s an opening of attention. And that allows us to respond to our reactions with mindfulness and compassion. Pausing is an essential, deep and accessible practice.
Can you allow ten seconds for a pause in the midst of what arises?
When you take note of instances of people losing their temper or following impulses that lead to harm, even death, it’s obviously important. And it seems easy in theory, but the difficulty, and the learning, is that you have to face your planned drive, as well as meet the reflexes and reactions that arise when you do that: ‘What’s the point of pausing?’ ‘Not now’ ’ I have to get on.’ Pretty convincing, aren’t they?
Meeting and investigating this urge to get on (bhava tanhā) is what meditation training is about.
Take mindfulness of breathing: the practice is to follow the exhalation into the pause phase where the abdominal muscles come to rest, as if there is no next inhalation. Then let the inhalation gather, fulfil itself and also come to rest with the upper chest and throat lightly expanded.
The pause phase is the crucial bit: it’s when the will lets go. That brings a relaxation at the end of the out-breath, and a bright opening at the end of the inhalation. As you tune into that pause, and trust letting go of the next moment, or of what to do, or even who you are – there is a growing sense of release.
This reflection by Ajahn Sucitto is from the Reflections Blog, “Learning the Pause,” Saturday 2 October 2021.