We all know the feeling of a roller coaster's slow, steep incline where our hearts begin to race in anticipation with each rickety sound of the tracks beneath us and the distant screams of riders ahead, adding to the tense feeling of the unknown. At the peak, time stands still as we wait for the moment defining this entire experience—the pause before the descent. It is a moment to take in the surrounding environment and connect with fellow riders. It is a time of clarity and orientation before we release ourselves into that which we cannot control.
Why do roller coasters pause in this way? Is it some form of torture?
The reality is there is power in the pause. We use it in music, speeches, poetry, and storytelling. This idea is also found in the Japanese practice of Karate Kata, where practitioners deliberately pause between movements to stay connected with their bodies and move forward with intentionality. This martial art holds to the belief that it is in the pause that the battle is won.
Modern Western thinkers call a transitional pause a "liminal space." The term derives from the Latin word 'limen,' which means threshold. It was first used in the early 20th century by Arnold van Gennep and Victor Turner in studying the rites of passage that help humans move from one state of being or situation to another. A liminal space is the time between 'what was' and 'next.' Like the peak of a roller coaster, it is a place of transition, a time of waiting and not knowing the future. It's a gap and can be physical (like a doorway), emotional (like a graduation), or symbolic (like a decision).
As a nurse, incorporating sacred pauses into our nursing practice can be a powerful way to enhance patient care, improve well-being, and cultivate a sense of presence and intentionality.
Here are some practices you might consider integrating into your nursing practice.
Pre-Patient Encounter Pause: Before entering a patient's room or beginning a shift, take a moment to pause and center yourself. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and set an intention for the encounter. This pause can help you leave any distractions or stress behind and focus on providing the best care possible.
Hand Hygiene Mindfulness: Use the act of hand hygiene as a sacred pause. Instead of rushing through it, take a few extra seconds to wash your hands mindfully. It serves as a moment to mentally, physically, and spiritually prepare for your next patient interaction.
End-of-Life Care Pause: When caring for patients at the end of life or supporting grieving families, create a sacred pause before entering the room. Reflect on the patient's journey and the emotional needs of the family. This pause can help you approach the situation with empathy and compassion.
Shift Change Transition: During shift changes, take a moment to pause with your colleagues. Share your successes, challenges, and any critical information about patients. This pause fosters gratitude, teamwork, communication, and unity among the nursing staff.
Patient-Focused Pause: Before performing a procedure or administering medication, pause to confirm the patient's identity, the procedure or medication details, and any potential risks or allergies. This moment of double-checking can prevent errors, ensure patient safety, and invite you to be present with the patient and their specific needs.
Mindful Breaks: During breaks, engage in mindful practices such as deep breathing, stretching, or a short meditation. These pauses can help you recharge, reduce stress, and return to your duties with a clear mind.
These sacred pauses can vary in duration and form but share the common goal of promoting mindfulness, intentionality, and the delivery of compassionate care. Incorporating 'pause' into your nursing practice can, like the peak of a roller coaster, feel uncomfortable at first, but it will enhance overall well-being, improve patient outcomes, and create more meaningful connections with patients and colleagues.