Learning to pause

Let's run an experiment. In a minute I'm going to ask you to choose an object that you can pick up.

This is very important: you’ll need it for the experiment to work.

Before we go on though: raise your hand if you've already identified that object.

I said "in a minute" – I even bolded it! – but notice how your problem solving mind already wants to go off and do it.

You can also notice if there are any secondary thoughts:

  • "What kind of object?"
  • "Should it be heavy or light?
  • "What if I choose the wrong object for the experiment?"

And perhaps more subtle, societally conditioned ones:

  • "Can I second guess what the experiment will be so that I can choose the right object?
  • "Oh if I choose it now rather than in a minute that will show how conscientious and (therefore) good I am!"

Instead, call to mind the idea that you don't need to know yet. When you notice my prompt acting as a stimulus, you can decide to pause. You can decide not to respond.

Become familiar with that space between stimulus and response. Stretch it out. Fall in love with not knowing. And then, once you've stayed in this space a little, allow yourself to choose an object.

By the way: pausing should involve absolutely no effort. No muscular tension. No change in your breathing. No holding of any kind. No narrowing of awareness. Notice if you have a tendency to do any of those things when you pause.

Let's play again.

In a minute I'm going to ask you to identify an object that you can pick up.


Without looking, notice that there is space above you.


Without looking, notice that there is space behind you.


Notice that part of your mind that really, desperately wants to look around and choose an object. Don't suppress it, just don't give it energy. Come back to the present moment. And again. And again.


Now with full consciousness and – almost as if from within the pause itself – allow yourself to pick an object.

What was that like?

By the way, that was the experiment. You can let go of any need to choose an object now. Sorry (not sorry) to mess with you.

This pause is at the heart of ‘non-doing’, or I could say ‘non-caring-in-the-self-interfering-way’. Once you start to see how the stimuli in your world trigger conditioned responses, you’ll see how this pause can open up entirely new possibilities for change and growth.

Michael Ashcroft

Michael Ashcroft


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