We’ve all heard the wise advice, “Take 10 deep breaths.” In hindsight, it's glaringly obvious that all my worst decisions and most regrettable actions occurred because I didn’t stop to think. If this is so apparent, why is it hard for me to remember to slow down, to pause, in the moment? More importantly, how do I help myself to pause, when I am at risk of making a hasty choice?
Our brains evolved such that they operate as interacting parts, rather than as synthesized wholes. Some components are swift, intuitive unconscious operators and others are slightly slower, sequential processors. In addition, our peripheral nervous system carries important information—including (over)reacting to perceived threats. All parts of our bodies offer us important and valuable information. In order to harness the strengths of each and have as many options available to us as possible, we need the time to hear both our love and fear (see blog, Fear of Love). The first step is to pause.
As psychotherapist Tara Brach explains, “A pause is a suspension of activity, a time of temporary disengagement when we are no longer moving toward any goal.” We pause to help ourselves maintain, or regain, our equanimity. Equanimity is the ability to experience calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in difficult situations. Our equanimity is enhanced both by on-going pause practice and by pausing when we enter moments of intensity.
One of the absolute gifts of life is that pausing is always available: there is always this moment and it will be followed by a new next moment. Each day, each minute, each breath provides a new opportunity. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote,
Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.
As well as with each day, with each moment, we can begin anew—if we let ourselves. It is through pausing that we are able to be unencumbered by our old nonsense. Pausing gives us the opportunity to respond, rather than react.
When we pause, we don’t know what will happen next—we have invoked the opportunity for new, creative responses to our beloveds and relationships. Pausing gives us the space to increase our mindfulness. Mindfulness is the intentional process of attending to this moment, with a curious, relaxed, compassionate gaze. Pausing interrupts our automatic reactions, which allows us to reconsider our habitual responses. With patience and practice, we can meet our thoughts and emotions with non-judgmental acceptance. This makes us open to unexplored opportunities and possibilities in our relationships.
While on a solo bike ride, I had the insight that each morning, I go to the well of creativity and replenish the holy water of inspiration in my vessel—and, that’s pretty much how much water I have for that day. If the well is full (or near full), chances are that I will draw up a fairly full vessel. If the well is low (or dry), my vessel will, likewise, be only partially filled—or maybe even empty.
The way we replenish the well is through our deliberate pause practices. If I skip practicing pause for a day, I won’t immediately notice the impacts—there’s still some water in the well and my daily draw may be only minimally affected (at first). However, if I do not attend to maintaining my pause practices, I will start to notice that my vessel is coming back with less and less water. Similarly, once depleted, taking a pause won’t immediately provide much additional water. It might provide a little, but it seems to quickly evaporate. What keeps us hydrated is the regular deliberate practice of pausing.
We are the vessel that holds the gift of daily inspiration. I like to think of myself as an embossed clay urn—an amphora—used to carry water and other liquids. Besides for being beautiful and excellent at keeping water cool, they are tippy and fragile. To be able to hold the holy water of creativity, I need to prioritize care (and sometimes repair) to keep my amphora-self watertight.
Then, each day, knowing that I have a limited amount of water, I wish to be thoughtful in how I use that water and recognize if I have run out—trusting that some amount more will be provided tomorrow. If I notice that my daily allotment is quickly depleted, it is a sign that my well is running low, and I need to enhance my restorative pause practices.
Designing our lives to include regular pauses practice supports our ability to pause when we most need it. In future blogs I will discuss pause practices and in-the-moment pauses to help us actualize our intention to bring our best selves to our relationships. For now, I hope you will join me in setting the intention to prioritize pausing.
What shape is your vessel? How’s it holding up?
How much water is in your well of inspiration?
How will you pause today?