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Pause Practice: Scary, Transformational, Subversive Stuff

My prior blog, Pause…Please, was about recognizing and understanding the value of pausing as a means to replenish the well of holy water of inspiration. Intellectually, I think most of us—myself included—see that pausing is beneficial. But, actually pausing feels a lot more conflictual.

We can struggle with feeling selfish for ‘indulging’ in a Pause. Our culture highly values productivity and resting can be viewed as lazy—people even compete to be perceived as the most overworked. As Buddhist priest Thich Nhat Hanh advised, “Taking refuge in the island of self doesn’t mean that you leave the world. It means that you go back to yourself, and you become more solid.” Pausing is seen as a right of the privileged only. It is a disruption of inequities to engage in a Pause practice, especially if you have memberships in non-dominant groups. Activist Audre Lorde noted, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” More recently, self-proclaimed Nap Bishop Tricia Hersey has asserted that rest is resistance—resistance against the Capitalist, White-Supremist Grind Culture.

I think there is a deep, unnamed fear about pausing. And, it is not even wanting to acknowledge this fear that leads us to say we are too busy to pause, or that pausing would be self-indulgent. I think that our deep fear is that, if we pause, we just might really hear ourselves—and, what if we hear something that challenges a cherished illusion about ourselves or our relationships? What if we hear an invitation, for which we feel unprepared? What if we discover that we want to spend our holy water in a new way?

Pausing is powerful, and so we should weld the weapon of Pause respectfully. Psychotherapist Tara Brach elucidates,

There are times when being present feels out of reach or too much to bear. There are times when false refuges can relieve stress, give us a breather, help lift our mood. But when we’re not connected to the clarity and kindness of presence, we’re all too likely to fall into more misunderstanding, more conflict, and more distance from others and our own heart.

It can be scary to Pause, and it is compassionate to know when there is something that you cannot tolerate at that moment—when, temporarily, it is in your best interest to avoid pausing, avoid listening—that is self-love also. But, to eliminate pausing from our lives leads to disconnection from ourselves and many of our “pause avoidance” behaviors gain addictive qualities with harmful side effects. Ultimately, pushing ourselves lovingly out of our comfort zone—but not into our risk zone—into our Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) by developing a personally-meaningful Pause practice creates the space for transformation.

The Pause practices that will best fill your well of creativity are individual to you: one of the most important things is to figure out what is restorative and inspirational to you. The most restorative practices for me are (1) being alone, (2) moving, and (3) in nature. Although I can find Pause by doing one or two of these three, doing all three simultaneously is how I tap into the gushing spring of creativity. Knowing this, I prioritize solo hikes and bike rides for my Pausing practice. If this is unavailable, I can do other things (yoga, bike with friends, etc.), knowing that it isn’t as efficient a means for me to refill my well—but, may have other important benefits. The point is to figure out what you need for optimal functioning and prioritize giving this to yourself with adequate regularity.

Another important means of optimizing the impact of your Pause practice is to acknowledge its occurrence. As you practice pausing, observing that you are engaging in this behavior will enhance its potency. You apply your full concentration and effort to pausing, giving yourself feedback on what is and isn’t working, and continue to refine your practice. When I go for a solo bike ride, I have learned to consider how strenuous and technically challenging would be optimal for that day. Difficult rides demand my full attention and will assist me in being present—or, I crash and receive an immediate painful reminder that my attention strayed. Smooth, familiar rides can lead to a flow state and the emergence of insights—I have learned to bring my journal for these rides.

Remember that our lives are a marathon, not a sprint. Be gentle with yourself as you learn to prioritize pausing in your life. It would be counterproductive—oxymoronic, even—to rush pausing. Practicing Pause is a radical, brave act. When we Pause, we stop hiding. Pausing leads to hearing our inner voice and universal truths—it provides the opportunity for you to become even more the amazing you that only you can be.

If pausing is a new practice, we can feel swept away by the emotions from which we have been busily running away. No wonder most people avoid, and society discourages, pausing. Remember to stay within your learning zone—where you feel challenged, but not overwhelmed. Start small. And, reward the heck out of yourself for practicing.

Often the most important aspect of engaging in a desired behavior is to make it easy to start. So, consider any obstructions to your pausing practice and strategize how to eliminate them. For example, if you want to start journaling, make sure you have something to write on and something to write with. The next step is to have a reminder to start the behavior: an alarm or other trigger. Research has shown that engaging in a behavior at set times and days, in the same place, makes it more likely that you will engage in that behavior with the desired frequency so that the behavior will become habitual. And, it increases the impact of that behavior. For example, I journal (almost) every morning, in bed, as soon as I wake up.

Many Pause practices are rhythmic—this allows our brains to relax and calm most quickly. Pause practices that have been used across cultures and times include exercise and movement (especially fluid movements such as walking and dancing); praying and meditating; making and listening to music (particularly singing and chanting); journaling; art-making, crafting, and other creative outlets; and relaxation, stretching, and breathing practices (including yoga). Most pause practices are engaged in solitude or with others practicing simultaneously. However, you might find that you can benefit from pausing while engaging with others—for example, building with blocks with a child or singing with a group. In order to provide a Pause, the practice needs to be non-analytic, non-evaluative, and performed for no other purpose than to experience a Pause. For example, when I become focused on fitness, biking is no longer a restorative Pause. A Pause can be as long or as short as is available and of use to you—adding in a 10-minute walk to your day and mindfully experiencing that Pause could be of great benefit. Many people find it beneficial to have a brief Pause practice at the beginning and ending of each day; for example, setting an intention for the day as you wake up and reflecting on and appreciating how you practiced each night as you go to sleep. As with all practice, as we become more adept in practice, we are more able to give ourselves the gift of a Pause whenever it is needed.

Developing our own pause practice will help us to show up in our relationships as our best selves. We can also help dismantle the Grind Culture by modeling pausing. It is an act of resistance to tell others that we pause—that we spend time not beholden to the Capitalist, White-Supremist Grind Culture. If you have the privilege to control other people’s use of their time, you can insert pausing into that space. I start each of my classes with a mindfulness activity. My wise and compassionate colleague, Dr. Paul Michalec writes in his illuminating blog on teaching, IN:SIGHT, that his instructional mantra is “rest, settle, and center.” This is an act of bravery: it invites students to be more fully present, which means that they are more likely to question aspects of our learning space—including my guidance of our class. And, it is an act of love to give others the gift of pause, to encourage them to fill their well of inspiration. Ultimately, practicing pausing, going public about pausing, and encouraging others to pause is radical and revolutionary stuff.

What insubordinate pause practdo you want to enact?


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