5 Surprising Benefits Of Taking A Pause. By Dr. Linda Berman.

49771750908_0a9a8867de_oDavid Hockney – Sur la Terrasse [1971] Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

Why do we need to pause? How can pausing be beneficial in our lives?

  1. The Pause Gives Us The Opportunity To Stay With Not Knowing. 

Museo Thyssen- BornemiszaEdward Hopper – Hotel Room [1931]Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

Why should anyone make space for not knowing? What does this even mean?

Surely we need to know as much as we can, especially now, in the twenty-first century, when our social discourse is frequently constructed around the quick-fix solution and the formulaic, instant answer?

Well, let us think again about this, and about how ours has become a short-term culture, demanding immediate gratification.

In this rapid-fire, financially-pressurised, digital, competitive, fast-food, push-button society, we might wonder whether there is a place to pause at all.


There is little room, or respect, for doubt, uncertainty, ambiguity, or wondering.

This quest for the immediate may lead us to fall headlong into a precariously shallow and superficial state, for it does not allow us the time to pause and ponder.

We will inevitably jump to conclusions and miss the intricacies, the finer details, of life.

‘For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.’

HL Mencken.

In reality, developing a capacity not to know can be highly creative and freeing. Instead of rushing to find solutions, what if we were to allow some degree of uncertainty, wondering, curiosity?

This ‘not-knowing’ is akin to a mental slowing-down, allowing ourselves to take time, pause and curb the tendency to jump to conclusions without thinking. It means that we will avoid the distortions that come with quick certainties.

Could we take the risk of facing the unknown and give ourselves, and others, some space and time to wait and see what emerges?

Then we might engage with fresh possibilities, find new truths. In pausing to discover what might arise from such a space, we allow for an evolving kind of self-expression.

Pausing in Psychotherapy.

The pause, and waiting, are important aspects of the psychotherapy process. Again, they allow room for not knowing, for taking time to stay with thoughts and feelings, rather than rushing into action.

The psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott asserted that  ‘acceptance of not-knowing produces tremendous relief.’

Why should not knowing, on the part of both therapist and patient, bring such comfort?

Think about the world outside the peace of the therapy room. Think of the pressure to perform, to achieve, to go places, to be socially adept, to hurry up, to provide instant answers.

32223946015_68a0df8922_oJulian Opie – Walking in the Rain, Seoul [2015]Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

Often, if we do not know the answer, some of us may pretend to know, or spout something clichéd, just to appear knowledgeable.

In therapy there is an opportunity to escape such societal demands to perform. There is a chance to slow the pace, to stay with feelings….. and to pause.

In pausing, we can more easily notice what is happening within us and outside of us, and get in touch with feelings and bodily sensations, without the need to rush into superficial activity or easy formulaic responses.

Although there are time limits to the session, there are generally further sessions; there should be no pressure to hurry through the process of therapy.

Not knowing also allows the therapist to be fully there for the patient, a quiet, strong and reflective presence, listening and attending to the patient’s needs, rather than to her own theoretical formulations.

Through the pause in therapy, both therapist and patient can wait, for something to emerge from the unconscious that is more than a superficial statement or response.

How often does one experience such calm, authentic support?

2. The Benefits of Standing And Staring

1525773253_large-image_alfred-stevens-the-new-blue-ribbon-largeAlfred Stevens – The Blue Ribbon. Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

Leisure (1911)
W.H. Davies

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?-

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows:

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

The above poem says it all; we need to take time to pause, to smell the roses, and to stand and stare. If we make space to look, and absorb what is around us, our lives will inevitably be enriched by the experience.

“I look; morning to night I am never done with looking.

Looking I mean not just standing around, but standing around
As though with your arms open.”

Mary Oliver

In this constantly moving world, we need more than ever to find time to face uncertainties. We need room to decelerate our thinking, allowing for reflection and for a meditative journey into the deeper reaches of our feeling and thinking selves.

Sometimes it is important to create this internal relocation in order to think clearly and to develop empathic vision.

26398094223_c262ecd1c7_oVictor Brauner – Untitled (Portrait of a Man) [1923] Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

“It’s the man who steps away from the world whose sleeve is wet with tears for it.”

Bill Viola.

3  The Pause Can Be Very Creative 

“If you notice anything,
It leads you to notice
and more.”

Mary Oliver. The Moths

Pausing allows us an opportunity to open the mind, allowing confusion and doubts to simply be, free of conceptual constraints.

This principle of waiting, of slowing down our thinking, of not-knowing, holds true for most creative endeavours. Quietness, stillness and having space to think, differently and imaginatively, are crucial.

Both Art And Music Cause Us To Pause.


Music makes us pause. We stop and we listen. In addition, part of the wonderful effects of music are created by the pauses in the music itself.

Let’s take a look at the magic of the spaces between the notes:

“Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.”

Maya Angelou

“The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes — ah, that is where the art resides.”

Artur Schnabel

What do the spaces contribute to a musical piece? Think of Beethoven’s fifth and how it begins…..

The spaces between the notes mean that the sounds reverberate majestically, full of dramatic expectation and awe.

image.pngThe Opening of Beethoven’s Symphony No 5.

Such blanks, such pauses, allow for a resonating, an echo, they are part of the timing of a piece; they are crucial to the creation of atmosphere and beautifully modulated sounds.


Image:Velazquez.Three Musicians.

“The music is not in the notes,
but in the silence between.”

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart


4816444169_28e5f7ba68_kPhil Roeder .Art Institute of Chicago. People viewing “Paris Street; Rainy Day, 1877” by Gustave Caillebotte.

“It isn’t up to the painter to define the symbols. Otherwise it would be better if he wrote them out in so many words. The public who look at the picture must interpret the symbols as they understand them.”


Inevitably, we must pause as we look at art. To look at a painting, or a sculpture, we need more than a cursory glance. The pause enables us to think, to feel into the work.

Art, of course, also has subtle messages for us to ‘hear’ and ‘read,’ and all this requires that we stop and take some time.

When we look at a work of art, we can pick up visual clues, just as we hear clues about the meaning behind people’s words. This is a different way of ‘listening,’ using other senses.

It is the task of the viewer of a painting to come to their own conclusions about what the work means to them.

Subtlety in an artwork leaves room for the viewer to do their own interpretive work, so that they become a part of the whole creative experience. It becomes a visual ‘conversation.’

We are encouraged, in this way, to pause, think about and question what we perceive, as we might do when listening to another person’s speech.

4. Pausing Can Help Us In Relationships. 

imageGauguin. Conversation. Wikimedia Commons.

“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.”

Viktor E. Frankl

How often are we tempted to react, to ‘shoot from the hip,’ when we are angry with another person? So often, this leads to an escalation of the argument, creating more distress and pain in a relationship.

If we take a few moments to calm down, perhaps to leave the room, to allow ourselves some thinking space, often the feelings of rage will give way to some understanding or self and other.

“Practice the pause. Pause before judging. Pause before assuming. Pause before accusing. Pause whenever you’re about to react harshly and you’ll avoid doing and saying things you’ll later regret.”

 Lori Deschene

Jack Cornfield, who is Buddhist, sees such pauses as ‘sacred,’ allowing us to get in touch with the best parts of ourselves:

“Try this in your next argument or conflict: Take a pause. Hold everyone’s struggle in compassion. Reflect on your highest intention. Whenever things get difficult, pause before you speak and sense your wisest motivation. From there, it will all flow better.”

5 . The Pause Helps Us To Listen.

40108946795_e60e94a31e_oPaul Cezanne – The Conversation [1872-73]Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

“There’s a much deeper and meaningful conversation being conducted in the space between the lines.”

Dave Cenker, Second Chance

Sometimes the words that are left unspoken may, in fact, be the most meaningful. Making the space inside oneself to listen in a deep way can help the other person to feel really heard.

The phrase in the quotation below, reading between the lines, means that we will be able to pick up what was not said. Often, we can detect more in the words that are left unsaid.

“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t being said. The art of reading between the lines is a life long quest of the wise.”

Shannon L. Alder

We can actually listen to pauses and silences. Picking up visual cues from body language, expressions, gesture, is a kind of listening with the eyes.

It is another way of reading between the lines, that is, interpreting the implied, unsaid message. In order to achieve this, we need to really understand the value of pausing, slowing down and allowing ourselves, and others, some therapeutic breathing-space.

John Leslie Breck – A Garden, Ironbound Island, Maine [c.1896]Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr

“When someone is impatient and says, ‘I haven’t got all day,’ I always wonder, How can that be? How can you not have all day?”
George Carlin

©️Linda Berman.

Pause now to follow my blog! Thanks, Linda.


  1. Goodness, there is so much contained in the relatively short piece. Thank you Linda.

    You have beautifully and delightfully, engaged my mind and opened it. Throughout reading, I was pausing, noticing, wondering. How lovely pausing in a piece on pausing.

    In particular, how you have shown the different examples of pausing, yet all of them hold the same premice, noticing what is not there, the silence, the unsaid.

    Pausing is a way of being.


    Liked by 1 person

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