Micropractices That Give Me Pause

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By Mary Beth Stern, Mindful Leader MBSR Instructor

One of the important tenets of a mindfulness program is not only to teach the experiential practice of formal meditation, but to impart practical tools for incorporating awareness into the unfolding of everyday life. In MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction), these two pillars of practice are what distinguish mindfulness, not as a means to an end or a technique for achieving a desired outcome, but as a way of being. Like the two rails of a train track, these precepts keep us moving in our intended direction, empowering our innate capacity for presence in both the ordinary and extraordinary moments of life. 

With commitment and training, a formal practice of meditation, perhaps at a given time each day, can become a wholesome habit and a welcome respite from the sometimes anxious, depressive, and stormy states of the discursive mind. Many come to cherish this shift, which is sometimes referred to as moving out of “doing” and into  “just being.”

But how does practice come into play in those all those too common moments of the mundane?

How does it come into play when the driver ahead is going 15 MPH in a 40 MPH lane and you’re stuck behind him? What about when the car behind you is tailgating, and then someone cuts you off, needing an exit at the last minute? Or perhaps when the boss schedules an unexpected meeting, setting new procedures and goals for the job that pays your rent but makes you feel trapped? 

The more informal mindfulness practices can be incorporated into the day, the more likely it is that one can be present, where the rubber meets the road. These are the moments less about transformation and enlightenment and far more about “just living it!” At its core, mindfulness is about remembrance. If we can remember to be present, even in the most challenging of times, we can escape the rut of habitual behaviors, opening to the possibility that there is another way of seeing things, and perhaps a more creative response might emerge.

So how do we plant the seeds of remembrance?

Intentionally planning brief pauses into the day can provide an effective prompt. Taking 30-90 seconds regularly upon entering the car to feel your hands on the steering wheel or your foot on the brake, sets the stage for a kinder response when traffic isn’t moving as you expected. Establishing a brief habit of feeling into the body as you enter the workplace, maybe pausing to notice the light in the room, a particular object, or the feel of your keyboard may result in a natural, nourishing pause to just feel the breath and the body before meeting with the boss. 

The Practice of Pausing

The experience of my own practice of pausing--noticing how many shades of green I might be seeing, or the stillness or movement happening in the surrounding trees, or perhaps closing my eyes and becoming aware of nearby sounds, either familiar, or far away and strange--has served to bring a freshness to what I see, how I see it, and the uniqueness and presence of sounds and silence. Often, my practice has called me back when the mind seduced me with the lure of rumination or the invitation to the faraway places of storyland. 

The Practice of “Being With”

Most recently, in turning toward the challenge of current world events, I have sought the solace of community, sitting in practice with companions and teachers. The message has been consistent; we should seek inner peace and note our own impediments, as well as the places where we are denying compassion to ourselves and others, harboring resentments and “othering,” seeing the world through an “us versus them” lens. So, I sit in silence, contemplating, “being with“ what is happening, feeling the weightiness in the body, bemoaning the unknowable in the mind, and feeling connected AND disconnected in a disconcerting way. 

I go for my daily walk, when my sweet dog reminds me to pause, as she sniffs every bit of moss on a tree trunk, and under every stone and leaf. I am more patient today as I recollect the image of a refugee kneeling on the ground next to a large dog that was lying down immobilized by fear. After a few moments of the dog and the man head-to-head, the dog stood up and walked back into the house. A reporter asked the man what he had said. “I told him he would be okay,” the man responded as he turned and walked to join the long line of evacuees.

The Pause Makes Connection Possible

I pause to note a passing cool breeze on this unseasonably hot day and become aware of the surprisingly loud sounds of passing egrets. The sky is clear and very blue with white puffy clouds. I pause again and hear the words of a young mother with her child as she crossed a border to safety, away from the smoky skies of war. “What do you want to say to the world?“ she was asked. “I want to say look up at the sky…because you can.” 

These days, the pause feels particularly powerful, inviting a presence that feels incumbent upon me to see a clear sky, to hear the birds and feel a passing breeze. I am present to the reality of the moment I am experiencing in honor of those who are suffering. It is in the pause that connection is possible, that compassion arises unbidden and the silent wish for peace radiates out to all beings everywhere.

Mary Beth Stern is a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) teacher, trained and certified by the Center for Mindfulness at UMASS Medical School. She is also trained in Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention and is a Florida Board Certified Addictions counselor. Since 2014, she has taught throughout Palm Beach County, and was the senior MBSR teacher at Jupiter Medical Center, in collaboration with UMASS Center for Mindfulness. She now teaches MBSR with Mindful Leader.

Mary Beth is an instructor for our MBSR classes. Click here to learn more and view upcoming classes.


Carmichael Khan

Timely "how to" about the art of presencing in the midst of absencing... lovely!

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Terre Passero Passero

Thank you for this, Mary Beth. So visual, practical, and personal. 

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Caroline Thibaudeau

Simply wise! thank you for sharing Mary Beth

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