The Long, Swollen Pause

The idea that pauses in conversation are bad has been indelibly etched into our belief system. We even have an expression for this unwanted interval: The awkward silence. Because in our minds, conversation should be a lively flowing exchange. The good conversationalist, we are told, should know how to keep the dialogue moving.

But even in the context of what we would call “small talk,” a well-timed pause is of great benefit; it not only allows for a moment of reflection, but gives a greater sense of intention to what will eventually be said.

In a potentially heated conversation, a befitting pause is not only beneficial, but vital. A deliberate pause can totally prevent fall out. In Kundalini Yoga, we talk a lot about the neutral mind. The simple act of waiting before speaking—for as long as you need to—can bring us there. Yet, as simple as it is, we forget to do it.

The neutral mind is the mind of the sage. It is the mind that stays cool, come what may. So called because it neutralizes our reactive tendency. Staying neutral is easier said than done. Yet we all know someone who is just naturally that way—unaffected by the things that throw most people into melt-down mode. The neutral mind allows you to step back rather than getting sucked into the drama.

This reservoir of calm, called the neutral mind, opens us up to our own intuition—that deep-rooted confidence and conviction that is quite outside of the senses. When our intuition is working, it is like a good radio antenna, which makes us more attuned to information that we don’t pick up through the noise of sense data.

The long, swollen pause is like Lao Tzu’s empty cup—it is that space which the universe can fill. The neutral mind is nonjudgmental. It listens without classifying or condemning. It has to, so that it can receive, rather than impose. And when it does, it’s like a trouble maker getting out of the way. That’s when a connection is made. That’s when the station is tuned in. That’s the state of no separation. That’s when we see through, to the other side of the words—the words that are so baffling: How could he say that??? That’s where we see the cry for help, attention, or  understanding—the true intention behind what is actually uttered (because, remember, people don’t always know how to say what they really want to say).

Finally, it is the neutral mind that is the bridge to reality itself, unfiltered by our triggers and reflexes, and all the story lines that give rise to them. It is pure and unspoiled by our criticism and preferences, and free of all the static that gets in the way of effective response and judgment. In short, it debars the reactive tendency.

As one of my teachers puts it, it is the neutral mind that allows us to see it and then un-see it. The pause is the way. But it takes courage because it means busting through what others expect of us, as well as our own old habits. But the rewards are well worth it because it is the key to effective communication.

6 responses to “The Long, Swollen Pause

  1. All our words are but crumbs that fall down from the feast of the mind.”–Kahlil Gibran

  2. I like the idea of the ‘neutral mind’. It feels much less constrictive….and I love the ‘pause’…….I learned about ‘holding silence’ in the coaching certification course I took……it truly is powerful……….and it brings one right into the moment.
    Thx for sharing :)…………

  3. Thank you, Gunjan, for the lovely KG quote!
    Thank you, Gina, for stopping by!
    Smiles on this beautiful day,

  4. Tell me this: Does the idea of “neutral mind” preclude the possibility of being passionately in favor of one position, and strongly opposed to another? Sometimes in life we are challenged to defend positions that we believe are right and true and to oppose positions we believe to be false. Yes, sometimes we can be mistaken in these views, but we aren’t really “neutral” players in this game of life–we are intimately involved and we have a stake in how things turn out. Of course we must choose our battles and set our priorities, but I don’t think a “neutral mind” is always possible or even desirable. Maybe I am missing something here…

  5. John,
    From my upcoming book:

    “It’s not to say, we don’t advance our situations or improve what needs improving—but, as my teacher says, you schedule a “target moment” for that.”

    Chances are, we will not be very successful in advancing our situations, or correcting what needs correcting if we’re merely reacting to what we think we see rather than what is. A pause allows for response, rather than reaction, and for diffusion of our own, as well as others’ defensive mechanisms, which only make those situations more incendiary.

    (As for missing things, what is universally missed are the non-discursive and philosophical manners of affecting and influencing situations – pausing helps here, too.)


  6. Donna,

    Thank you for yours. I look forward to your new book! I’m not sure what your teacher means by a “target moment” but I suppose he or she is saying that timing is crucial when you want to make a point and have it adequately received. Some people are clearly gifted in this way–they know when people are likely to be receptive and when to back off.

    The distinction between “reacting to what we think we see rather than what is” is a subtle one and even elusive. Our perception of reality is always limited to some extent, even though I agree it can be sharpened and refined. Still, there are some people who are simply intractable and you can pause from now until eternity and it won’t change anything. (Actually “eternity” is the timeless so that probably isn’t a good temporal metaphor! Let’s just say you can pause “for a very long time…”) We can’t always wait until we have perfect clarity of mind or vision–sometimes we have to do the best we can, fully recognizing our inadequacies and self-interest.

    I realize there are non-discursive ways of influencing situations. Just speaking for myself, however, I don’t think I’m very good at them! For
    me non-discursive moments of clarity are rare and I unfortunately have to rely on my “delusional mind” most of the time. But thank you so much for
    your kind comments and interest! I enjoy your creative blog!


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