Cultivating “the pause”

There’s a technique in meditation where, as you place your attention on the breath, you take it one step further. As you inhale, you note the pause at the top of the inhale, and then as you exhale, you note the pause at the bottom of the exhale. And then you can take it a step further. As you note the pause at the end of the exhale, you allow that pause to lengthen ever so slightly. You rest in the emptiness of the exhale. You allow the pause to just be.

Simply settling the mind enough to pay attention to the breath is a challenge enough for most. But allowing ourselves to rest in a moment of having emptied the body of breath, and allowing ourselves to be fully aware in that emptiness, can be quite disquieting. But attending to that emptiness, is just the right antidote to the current state of affairs.

We, or perhaps I should say, we Americans, tend to not live our lives keeping busy, very busy.  We have cultivated an attachment to “noise”, to an external stimulus, to news, to the constant and urgent activity of the “next thing”.  Physically, we can become addicted to the adrenaline that our bodies produce when we hear the drama of the news, continually checking our email, social media, news reports for the next crisis, making that the only topic of conversations we have. As we near the end of 2017, the world around has become so unpredictable, so dramatic and sometimes frightening that it seems we are compelled and honor-bound to stay plugged in, on high-alert.

But we now know that the state of high-alert is unhealthy to the body and the mind. The “Flight or Flight” response creates sympathetic nervous system overload. It depletes the adrenal system so that we become fatigued and burned-out. Responding to life threats on high-alert certainly is an essential survival response but when left unchecked, causes unhealthy levels of stress.  People who maintain the high-alert overload can suffer anxiety, depression, sleeping difficulty, digestive issues, weight loss, weight gain, heart conditions, back and neck pain, headaches, joint pains, and many other conditions and symptoms.  This is not good for us individually, nor is it good for a world that needs our best selves and creative thoughts to problem-solve our way forward.

Ironically, keeping busy, always informed and on high-alert can feel comforting because the activity demands our full attention and does not allow us to dive into issues that may be less urgent even if they are just as important. The stress-induced fatigue or even illness can take center-stage. Where do we create space to align with our own creative selves? When do we have time, when on high-alert to explore life’s questions: What am I really passionate about? What is my purpose at this moment in my life? Am I taking good care of myself? Do I feel connected to my spirit? It used to be that we had a day of Sabbath to let the world rest so that we could attend to these bigger questions. Some still hold fast to that tradition. Imagine cultivating a whole entire day of pause?

I recently had to live without my Iphone for a few days when it needed repair and I realized, that despite my  own personal practices, I had become habituated to the constant “hit” of news.  Of course, I now use my Iphone for all things — not just email, texts and social messages. But the time. The weather. My calendar.  My phone had become my other “mind” alerting me what to do next throughout the day. Disabling my ability to allow for inspiration, for following my creativity impulse. Without it, I had to rely on old-school methods. I had to wait until I was next at my computer to check my email. I had to remain quiet when standing in line rather then referencing my news feed. I was living with my own thoughts again.  I was finding my way back to my self.

Cultivating the pause in our days is a practice of mindfulness and matters to our good health, our creativity and the presence and peacefulness that we can then turn to share with others. We do need to solve the problems of the day. We just don’t need to solve them 24/7 at the expense of our being.

Cultivating the pause in meditation is a place to start. But if meditation eludes, we can cultivate the pause in other ways.  Here are a few:

  • Walking. Can you walk to a meeting or for an errand in your day? Slowing down to the walking pace, even walking with your breath, can allow the body and mind to find a moment of pause in the action and reset.
  • Red lights. If cars are your mode of transportation, can you relax at the next red light and attend to the breath? Or simply notice the weather, the landscape?
  • Stand in line. When you’re standing in line for coffee or your next flight, can you take a moment and simply stand in a balanced posture, and conduct a brief body scan?  Feel your feet on the ground. Feel you arms relaxing from the shoulders. Feel your jaw relax. Allow a smile to your face.
  • Take a full breath. Right now even. Take a moment to look away from your device at something beautiful and peaceful. Or simply close your eyes. Place your hands on your belly and breathe your breath into your belly. Feel it fill. Exhale and feel it empty. And once more.
  • Find beauty. Take a moment to enjoy a poem or a piece of music or a sunset or a loved one’s smile.

What do you do to create space in your day? Where do you cultivate the pause?




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