A little rest stop
In the past years of my mindfulness practice, I have noticed time and time again the importance of returning to the cushion, to formal meditation guidance, to a quiet space. Having access to a safe and peaceful environment to practice mindfulness can be incredibly grounding and supportive. Yet what many teachers have continuously reminded me of, is that life happens off of the cushion, and this is where the most important practice takes place. Arriving at a place of witnessing, breathing, pausing, and listening not only on the cushion, but also in all the other moments that happen in between, is perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of embodying the practice of mindfulness.
Tara Brach, Ph.D, Psychologist, author and teacher of meditation, recently recorded a podcast titled “The Sacred Pause.” In it she spoke about the importance of inviting oneself to just “stop.” The invitation to stop does not have to be demanding or authoritative, but it can be compassionate and diplomatic. By encouraging the stop, by giving ourselves permission to not do anything, we can begin to truly inhabit the spaciousness within the pause.
“In a way the practice of meditation is forgetting and getting caught in doing
Some thinking and then remembering again
Relaxing open and pausing yet again
Inhabiting the pause, not doing anything…
Just be.” – Tara Brach
In this talk, Tara Brach touched on the importance of practicing informal pauses throughout the day. There is wonderful power in these brief pauses, whether they are 5 seconds or 5 minutes. The practice of stopping, taking a couple of intentional breaths and opening to the senses, can completely disrupt the trance of thinking and doing. These brief pauses can spark transformative ripples that support embodying the state of being instead of doing.
Tara Brach spoke of the couples’ research done by Dr. John Gottman. He worked with couples during moments of high reactivity and conflict. In response to this, he would send each partner away from each other in the midst of their reaction for a total of 15 minutes. Couples would continuously return with much more resourcefulness, openness, maturity, and a renewed ability to sort out what was going on. The benefits of this time-out were revealed in participants who did not previously have a regular mindfulness practice.
The limbic hijack, as Tara Brach refers to it, also known as the fight or flight response, dissipates in approximately 15 minutes after being sparked by challenging stimuli. The excess adrenaline gets absorbed back into the body and the prefrontal cortex becomes more engaged. Tara Brach invited listeners to reflect on this research, as well as the powerful changes to the brain and body that can occur from regularly stopping throughout the day. By intentionally stopping and possibly even beginning to rest, amidst moments of reactivity, new perspectives and creative responses can be accessed.
David Whyte, in Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment, and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words shared:
“Rest is an act of remembering, imaginatively and intellectually, but also physiologically and physically. We often hate ourselves for our procrastination, when it is often only the deeply disguised need to rest deeply enough to reconstitute and reimagine our approach. To rest is to become present in a different way than through action, and especially to give up on the will as the prime motivator of endeavor, with its endless outward need to reward itself through established goals. To rest is to give up on worrying and fretting and the sense that there is something wrong with the world unless we put it right; to rest is to fall back literally or figuratively from outer targets, not even to a sense of inner accomplishment or an imagined state of attained stillness, but to a different kind of meeting place, a living, breathing state of natural exchange.”
Before I began to practice mindfulness, I would often get carried away into spirals of reactivity, anxiety, depression, self-criticism, and the list goes on… What this practice has taught me, more than anything is that; it is okay to take a rest stop. That it is okay for my heart, mind, and body, to slow down and rest for a few moments, amidst the highway of life’s ever increasing demands. I have learned that the more I prioritize these little rest stops, the more I get back on the road in a clearer, calmer, and more compassionate way.
During moments of reactivity, what are the signals in my body, breathing, or thoughts that tell me I need a brief rest stop?
How can I create little moments of rest throughout my day, in a proactive way?
Cassandra Cornacchia is the Client Services Coordinator at the Centre for Mindfulness Studies. Cassandra is a Registered Social Worker, that has recently completed a Master of Social Work at Ryerson University. She is a Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) Teacher in training.
Brach, Tara. (2018,10). The sacred pause. Retrieved from https://www.tarabrach.com/sacred-pause/.
Whyte, David. (2015). Consolations: The solace, nourishment and underlying meaning of everyday words. Rest. Many Rivers Company, Langley, WA, 98260.