I experienced a very simple but helpful exercise recently. In a large circle of people I had just met, a balloon was given, and we were asked to pass it to the person next to us. The balloon happily made its way around the circle.
Then a second balloon was introduced, and we were told the only rule was that no one could hold both balloons at once. OK, this takes a little bit of negotiating. If both come at once, do I reverse the flow of one? I tried this. It didn’t always work.
And then a third and fourth balloon entered with the instructions to “Go as fast as you can … Go, go, go!” As you can imagine, it quickly became a scene of playful, noisy chaos.
Then we were given new instructions. All the balloons were put away except for one. Now we were asked to pass the balloon around the circle as if it were a precious gift.
the balloon made its way around our circle in hallowed silence
and with it, face-to-face encounters.
And then we did it a second time! It felt like some kind of strange extravagance.
At this slow pace, there was an individual and community experience of giving and receiving — no longer of just a balloon, but of presence. The exchange was transformed into a human encounter.
It is needed, the pause.
How often do we really look at people, even our closest companions, to see them? To really see them? A pause can also be for ourselves. Do I really see what’s real in me? Too often we move right on past what needs our attention.
I’m beginning to believe that a pause, if we’re willing to take it, can change the world.
If we need prompting for it to happen, consider this way in. When we arrive at the checkout these days, life is different. If you use a debit or credit card with any regularity, you’re familiar with the new instructions to swipe or insert your chip.
When I first used the chip, I was very aware of the pause. It was a kind of long-ish moment, right? The card is inserted, and we wait. I wait, the cashier waits, the line waits. I remember thinking, “Oh, people are not going to like this.”
But beneath my concern, I began to feel a hidden hope. A pause. Could it be a contemplative pause? A reminder to slow down? To stop? To breathe? Could I use the pause to look up at my cashier and really see this person who is assisting my life? I thought of people all across the country pausing, one “insert chip” at a time.
I know that it will not take long before this pause is gone. It will become our new normal. It may be fading away as I write this. But I get to keep it. I want to keep pausing to notice the people around me, especially those closest to me, the ones I take most for granted. I want to pause and notice how I am feeling inside, or the beauty that surrounds me on every side. If we all paused to encounter — silently — the person in line next to us in our lives, and the cashier, the homeless one in need, the co-worker, the inmate, the other, myself … what difference might it make?
The contemplative life has been defined as one that takes a long, loving look at what is. When we do this, life can become encounter rather than just exchange.
As September begins, I feel myself peaking down the road of our presidential election season with a healthy measure of dread. I wish there was another reality I might live for the next two months. But, alas, that is not possible. What is possible is the pause.
I can choose to show up in the world with intention, bringing my presence to each person I meet. I want to notice when I am simply moving the balloon around my life as fast as I can, and then remember to pause. I think this is a good campaign strategy.
It is also a good life strategy. Always and everywhere we have the capacity to bring the pause, the peace, to the earth.
Blessings for the Journey,