Alice Walker in Praise of the Pause

All Praises to the Pause
By Alice Walker
In These Times
Wednesday 22 November 2006

One of the many gifts I received from strangers after writing The Color Purple 24 years ago was a bright yellow volume of the I Ching. It opened to the 63rd hexagram: “After Completion.” This is a time when a major transition from confusion to order has been completed and everything is (at last!) in its proper place even in particulars. Interestingly, according to the I Ching, this is a time not of relaxation, but of caution.

The I Ching is a compass of great value. Uncanny in its ability to share its Wisdom at just the moment it is required. How many friends, even best and closest friends, can do that?

What it is referring to in this hexagram is something that I am going to call “the pause.” The moment when something major is accomplished and we are so relieved to finally be done with it that we are already rushing, at least mentally, into The Future. Wisdom, however, requests a pause. If we cannot give ourselves such a pause, the Universe will likely give it to us. In the form of illness, in the form of a massive Mercury in retrograde, in the form of our car breaking down, our roof starting to leak, our garden starting to dry up. Our government collapsing. And we find ourselves required to stop, to sit down, to reflect. This is the time of “the pause,” the universal place of stopping. The universal moment of reflection.

I encourage you not to fear it. And why is it important not to fear the pause? Because some of the most courageous people on earth are scared of it, as I have been myself. Why is this? It is because the pause has nothing in it; it feels empty. It feels like we have been jettisoned into wide open, empty space. We can not see an end to it. Not seeing an end to it, or for that matter, not even understanding a beginning or a need for it, we panic. We may decide to make war, for instance, in the moment the Universe has given us to reflect. By the time we recover from our hasty activity a thousand small children may be lying dead at our feet.

Sometimes there is a feeling of not being able to continue. That, in this pause, whichever one it is, there is no movement. No encouragement to move, at all.

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