Get people to practice pausing and they are on their way to learning Focusing

Mary Jennings


The word ‘pausing’ stands out. I’m reading the short evaluations written by the 8 participants in the Level One Focusing course that was offered to professionals working in services for residential/foster care child services in Ireland.   In answering the question, what was the key learning for you in this course, again and again, phrases such as “the benefits of pausing and the simple, subtle ways this can be done” are repeated. My fellow trainers and I are surprised and a little intrigued at this outcome. We are not that sure that our course material was so skilfully designed to achieve this result! We were very much feeling our way, trying new ideas gleaned from different sources while ensuring that, at the end of the course, everyone would have a good foundation in the basic Focusing practices.


Mutual benefit in the experiment

Our proposition to the participants was clear: by participating in this free programme they would learn skills in the basics of Focusing. They could begin to use these in their work with children (generally those in the care of the State) and for their own self care as people in the frontline of often overstretched and under fire services.  In return, as Focusing trainers we would get to try out different ways of teaching  Focusing ; ways that involved  the Community Wellness Focusing principles and practices of ‘learn a little, practice a little, pass it on a little, learn more.  We would also get to incorporate what we, concurrently participants in a new Children Focusing training programme, were learning as we went along A big, but exciting agenda for an experimental course delivered over four half days. Pause. Yes, that feeling of excitement is there, bubbling away.


The Revolutionary Pause

And the concept of pausing, as presented and developed in this introductory course, seemed to have been what helped them quickly get a sense of this hard-to-describe Focusing process. When we slow down, pause, new possibilities have the potential to emerge. We can begin to sense for the more of what is there in any situation. We can allow a felt sense of ‘all that’ to begin to form. We can begin to live not from the surface of the situation, but from our own depths. Pausing is revolutionary!  To be able to pause– to bring us down to earth for a moment – we need to practice it. It doesn’t come that naturally to everyone. Our working environments tend not to encourage it; sometimes we just have to manufacture it for ourselves.


Ways to pause

Having touched on some of these ideas, we invited our Level One participants to come up with ‘ways to pause’ in the course of the working day. To kick-start the conversation, Mary shared an idea she had come across that buildings have pauses built into them. Think about it. Porches, lobbies, corridors, so called’ landing strips’ in shopping  malls are all designed to encourage you to pause as you transition from one place to the other; often from the outside to the inside…. It resonated. People began to see the possibilities in their own place of work. John confessed to being known as a ‘corridor stalker’; he deliberately uses the long corridors in the old building he works in just to pause and check in; to gather how he is inside as he prepares to meet the next person he is working with. Others might just pick up the phone, but the walk allows him the pause. Philipa, a smoker, banished with other smokers to a designated space outside, immediately saw new possibilities opening up in what is already a pausing space (even trying to convince us that this was a very good reason to smoke!).  Jackie said, ‘take the breaks, go to the canteen rather than take a cup of coffee at your desk’. Anne recalled a phrase she had learned at a stress reduction class: ABBA – take A Break Between Activities.  She could do that now with a renewed purpose, she felt.  We were on a roll.


Guerrilla tactics

Other ideas, which we began to call ‘guerrilla tactics for pausing’ came tumbling out and include:

  • Count to ten before reacting (old wisdom, now with a new understanding)
  • Put a curfew on the cell phone during breaks/lunch/evening times
  • When on the phone, say to the other person: “I am just writing down what you said so I get what you are saying (but really you are giving yourself time to pause)
  • Become more comfortable with saying to people “ Can you leave that with me” or “I am not sure about that just now”(if even for a few moments) or putting back a question to the person –“What do you think” – all with the underlying intention of taking a pause for yourself.

In one way, these are all obvious, clichés even, but when they are done for the purpose of, as Andrew said, “… leaving space for what is not immediately obvious..”, then they take on a whole new dimension. Pausing-without-pausing now seemed possible within a busy environment that did not generally value - or even allow -it.


Practicing bring benefits

We invited the participants to take ‘practicing pausing’ as their homework for the week, including trying out some of the ideas generated on our first day together. Here’s what transpired for people who, at this stage had completed 3 hours of a Focusing course.

“I turned off the radio and cleared away the breakfast things and sat for a minute before I left for work – I just had a whole sense of the day that way”.

“Travelling with a child (a client) in the car, I just asked her ‘how are you… and waited. Normally I would be chatting and trying to create a distract and it seemed to give her just a little time to check for herself. It was amazing what a small pause like that could do”.

“I became much more comfortable with the silence between the young person and myself. He didn’t want to talk, so I created a pause deliberately. It was good. And I know there was stuff happening in that pause but without a strain”.

“I notice now that there is a pause built into the building, and just as you go in the door, you can connect to yourself for that moment”.


Pause for thought

As our course continued over the next three weeks, we covered many different aspects of Focusing – allowing the felt sense to form, listening compassionately, how the language we use can help create the right relationship inside, how to work with boundaries and safe spaces.  There was something about spending the time right at the beginning working on pausing, why it’s important, what it can bring and how to do that in the hurly burly of a working day resonated. It really helped people to be more receptive to what Focusing could bring to them and to their work with children.  Pause for thought indeed.



Mary Jennings is a Coordinator in Training with TIFI and she lives and works in Dublin. In 2011 Mary introduced Children Focusing training into Ireland and she is once again actively working on developing this form of Focusing for a wide audience. She has a particular interest in integrating Focusing practice with Thinking at the Edge (TAE), making core elements of TAE part of the way we teach and practice Focusing in everyday living.

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