Vincent Ledvina via Unsplash

Human freedom involves our capacity to pause, to choose the one response toward which we wish to throw our weight. —Rollo May

Consider the pause. A delay in responding. A No to reaction. A time to assess. The pause is a place to evaluate options. Pause to stop automatic reactions. Pause to regard another perspective. Pause to mitigate the demanding electronic world.

I spent several days in the north woods this summer—camping, resting, relaxing. I find it gets harder to really get away. My electronic world follows me, climbs into my pocket ready to claim complete attention.

A pause can be a powerful tool to break the trance of patterns that no longer serve me.I leave town to set aside routine and rest the automatic pilot that governs my life. When I imagine a pilot, say of a ship or airplane, they are perched above the fray with a big picture view. A pilot sees long distances. Small plane crashes happen when that long view is obscured, when clouds and storms interfere and the pilot becomes disoriented, lost in space. When that happens, the pilot relies on instruments to echolocate where she is until her view is clear again.

Our large aircraft fly mainly by instruments. Instruments are more reliable and consistent than people’s eyes. Flying above the clouds or at night is too difficult and unsafe. So, pilots depend on navigation tools, automatic pilots.

My automatic pilot is always at the ready to take charge. It’s slick, fast, and reliable. Unfortunately, it is also biased, habitual, and out of date. When I don’t update her, my automatic pilot reverts to a much less mature version of me. I am investigating this internal decision maker and updating her algorithms. The trick is, I can only see how she operates when I catch her in action.

Thus, I am installing a Pause Button to separate stimuli from automatic reaction. A pause to notice. What is it I want to say—now? For instance, I am programmed to say Yes. I get lots of positive strokes when I say Yes. But do I want to say Yes to this? I can follow the pause with “Let me think about that, I’ll get back to you in an hour.”

A pause can be a powerful tool to break the trance of patterns that no longer serve me.

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Sometimes my automatic response is No. But do I really want to say No? Or do I want to consider what might get me to Yes. “No, I cannot do it this weekend, but I am available in two weeks.” Or “Tell me more so I have a fuller picture.” Or “While that sounds like fun, I have to clean the house today. If you want to join me this morning, I could participate this afternoon.” Or “No, that doesn’t work for me.”  Or “No, but with more notice next time…”

Both saying Yes and saying No can be automatic. I then live into these answers, sometimes with a full cargo of resentment.

Many of us were conditioned to say Yes. If someone needs me, it is my duty to say Yes. It is hard to say No. What will they think of me? Maybe they’ll never ask again.

I can create dependencies when I predictably say Yes. A relative can rely on my extra sweater, extra cash, extra bedroom and never have to plan ahead. Is that serving them well? Or me? Hardly!

A friend who needs an ear, but rarely calls to see how I am, might be surprised and even angry when I am not immediately available. I have trained her on how to treat me. I can change that. Not with an automatic No, but with a pause to consider what it is I really want.

Too often my automatic responses lead to resentments and expectations on my part. If I say Yes, then I expect the other person to be appreciative. When they aren’t, is it because I have primed them to think they deserve a Yes? Or I expect that if I help them, they will help me in return. Not necessarily so!

With a pause, I can look at my own expectations. I see where I’m not freely saying Yes, where I expect a quid pro quo. When I really consider the ask, I can say Yes wholeheartedly, without unspoken expectations. Or I can name my expectation. I can do this, and I would like you to ….

A pause is useful in my meditation as well. I sit quietly, aware of the present moment until thoughts intrude. I notice. Here I am thinking again. Pause. Back to presence. Breathe. More thinking. I watch that thought pass by like a summer’s cloud. Tempted to grab it and open it up, I stop. Pause. Return to presence. Over and over.

SEE ALSO  Summertime

The pause is so useful. Little puffs of calm in a parade of thoughts, reactions, and annoyances. If I were a cartoonist, I’d draw a slew of those empty bubbles and distribute them throughout the day. Oh, I can see one would help here! Oops, missed that opportunity! At day’s end, I’d gather the used ones and notice how I appropriated them. I’d replay my day in 10th step fashion. Here I could have used one, here I did, here it might have saved me an amends.

As I gain experience pushing my newly installed Pause Button, I can rely on it in more difficult situations, like when I am afraid. Fear plunges me into my fight, flight, freeze response. Now I really need to pause. Am I in actual danger? What is the story I am telling myself? Is that story true? How do I want to respond? As the psychologist Rollo May says, the ability to pause gives us the freedom to choose our response. Do I want to be free? Or do I want to turn that freedom over to my underdeveloped automatic pilot?

We are learning from physicists that the universe is full of emptiness. Even in the atoms that are the basis of everything, the electrons float in nothingness. Pauses are my empty spaces that allow thoughts, fears, hopes to float free and give me the opportunity to choose my response.

As with any new tool, I must practice using my Pause Button. I see already, she has much to offer. Are you ready to consider if you might want one, too? Free installation! No charge! Money back guarantee! Give her a try!

Mary Lou Logsdon provides Spiritual Direction in the Twin Cities. She is an instructor in The Sacred Ground Spiritual Direction Formation Program. She can be reached at

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