Addiction, political scandal, economic crime, environmental degradation, sexual slavery, teen suicide, ethnic cleansing, radical poverty, mindless violence, and the list goes on. One might think our world is totally devoid of moral values. Yet we all know what moral values are; putting them into action is where we can use further training. Such ethical training is integral to an awakening way of living, a mindful lifestyle. And learning to pause is at its heart. Sometimes, mindfulness without an everyday practice of ethics can be like rowing and rowing and wondering why we’re not getting anywhere when, all along, our boat is still tied off at the shore.
Pause and look within. Is our goal in life only to satisfy our immediate desires? Is it all just entertainment? Are we here only to cultivate an image? Are we only sleepwalking through it all, or are we awake? Many of us have at least tasted our capacity for dignity and beauty, our ability to be totally aligned with our highest potential. But glimpses come and go. For them to become commonplace, we need to learn self-discipline. And we can master that well — through pausing.
The universe opens up in silent applause when we take the leap to learn to pause.
This isn’t rocket science. With just a conscious breath, we’re already pausing. And we’re returning ourselves in the here and now. Grounded, we can listen to our heart, and set clear intentions. Considering the potential impact of our thoughts, our words, our deeds, we might choose either inhibition or direction. The door is always open. It’s up to us. With a smile, breathing easy, we get better at being human. We become good people.
Neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl said something that’s key here: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Pausing opens up that space, within. Given space, we can incline toward intentionality, an intention-based lifestyle, establishing how we want to live in the world.
Our past is history. Our future is still a mystery. But today is a gift — that’s why they call it “the present”. And yet, dwelling in the here and now may not always be enough. An Irish setter and a jewel thief are really great at being in the here and now. For a jewel thief, alertness is very much part of the job description. It comes with the terrain of a criminal lifestyle.
And let’s consider my neighbor Dave’s big, red Irish setter, who he’s been walking in Washington Square Park every afternoon since the dawn of time. One fine afternoon, after chatting with a friend, he looked around and saw his dear hound, true to the unwritten code of a happy animal lifestyle, trotting away with a total stranger, perfectly delighted to follow whomever showered him with attention and affection. What’s lacking for an Irish setter and a jewel thief is one thing. In a word, relationality.
Spiritual teacher Rev. angel Kyodo williams tells us that if we were to just add the words “and others” to our attention to self, it would dramatically alter perception and outcome. This wise worldview awakens us to ourselves and the world at the same time. Taking responsibility for our intentions and their impact opens our space of growth and freedom.
Being a good person — leading a life styled around core values, nourishing what’s wholesome and avoiding what’s harmful — can be one of the most valuable gifts we can offer ourselves and others. We can nurture this gift through meditation: being aware of our inner experience and our outer experience, and also the relationships between the two. This is an important part of meditation; still, such meditation alone is not enough.
A fulfilling life that includes moral responsibility takes training, the way an athlete trains. To become a better swimmer, you’d look at your stroke, your kick, your breathing, but also your diet and sleep habits, stamina, and ability to concentrate — in a word, your lifestyle. And it’s a practice, the way a musician, no matter how famous, practices basics like scales, over and over. A moral lifestyle doesn’t just fall from the sky on a shimmering silver platter, wrapped up neatly in elegant gift paper, and bound by a shiny red ribbon tied off in a fancy bow. It takes compassionate aspiration and powerful motivation, good guidelines and wholesome habits, as well as checking in on ourselves to see how we’re doing. Then our purpose is clear, and our power to achieve is immeasurable.
To begin – and begin anew, over and over again – remember, with just one conscious breath, we immediately pause. The rest is up to us.
Adapted from PAUSE … BREATHE … SMILE ~ Awakening Mindfulness When Meditation Is Not Enough. Copyright © 2018 by Sounds True. Published by permission of Sounds True.