From around ten thousand years ago, many of our farming ancestors survived by getting up at the crack of dawn and working until the sun went down. Until the 19th Century, there was no such thing as the “weekend” of two non-working days. O
From around ten thousand years ago, many of our farming ancestors survived by getting up at the crack of dawn and working until the sun went down. Until the 19th Century, there was no such thing as the “weekend” of two non-working days. Our ancestors would be amazed at the dishwashers, bread makers, and online grocery deliveries that make our lives easier now. Many of us have these modern conveniences, which, at one point in the past, were expected to herald a new age of leisure. So, what happened and why are we so busy? Part of the answer is that technology has allowed us to work at a faster pace and on a global scale. Much of our work is now information and knowledge-based, so there is a greater emphasis on education and specialization. Our lives are also more complicated than our ancestors. Where we can communicate across the world in an instant, our ancestors could spend their whole lives working on a village farm and never travel to the nearest city.
In today’s busy world it’s very easy to lose touch with the better part of ourselves; not the superficial “selfie” we present to others, but the deeper, reflective inner being, the quiet witness of our experience. It’s this deeper sense of self that the poet Derek Walcott touches on in his poem, Love after Love:
The time will come when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome, and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was yourself.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart to itself, to the stranger who has loved you all your life, whom you ignored for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf, the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror. Sit. Feast on your life.
Most of us lead busy work lives, rushing from one thing to another, with very little time to prepare for the next activity, with no time to pause, to reflect, and settle back within ourselves; no time to recover stability and balance. So, we enter the next activity of the day with our head already full of unfinished business, feeling a bit unsettled, possibly with physical symptoms of stress building up, then we continue this pattern over the rest of the day.
Surely there’s a better way?
One alternative is to take an intentional pause between activities, which allows us to check in with ourselves to notice what’s already here: Acknowledging prevailing thoughts and emotions pressing for attention, becoming aware of physical tightness and tension that we have accumulated, finding a bit of peace and calm, and expanding our awareness a little.
By pausing we create the space to rebalance and reconnect with the calm and open sense of who we are. No longer caught up in the choppy waves on the surface, we become the wide and deep ocean that contains them. Taking a pause is stepping off the treadmill of activity for a few moments.
Punctuating our day with intentional pauses can make a real difference to our general awareness, flexibility, well-being, and performance. Creating the space to skilfully respond, rather than automatically react.
Assuming there is a little bit of time before the next meeting, we could step outside for a few minutes, feeling the energy and aliveness of our body with a sense of gratitude and connecting with the soundscape around us to expand our awareness.
With a little more time, we can use an intentional pausing process, which, with practice, we can work through in a short space of time. In this process, we acknowledge our prevailing thoughts and emotions and release some tightness or tension. We can also bring kindness and compassion to ourselves as we adopt an open and accepting attitude to whatever arises, resting in a sense of stillness, stability, and balance, ready for the next activity.
The pause symbol of two vertical bars used on media controls is a variant of the square stop symbol and originally came from reel-to-reel tape machines. So, one way of seeing the pause button is that it represents the restful space between activities. By embedding a pause in our daily activity, we have greater access to the calm, open, and kinder sense of self that is the source of our greatest wisdom and potential.
Suggested weekly practice
- See if you can start your day with an intentional pause as soon as you awake, noticing the sensations of your body, and following your breath without becoming distracted by running through your to-do list.
- Every action during the day has a natural endpoint before the next activity. For instance, when you arrive at work, in between meetings, or after you’ve eaten your lunch. Use these natural breaks to practise pausing for a few moments.
- For a fuller pause, go outside where you can stand still, observe nature, look up at the sky, and rest for a few peaceful and connected moments in the soundscape around you.
Find somewhere undisturbed, sit in a comfortable, dignified, and upright posture, where you can remain alert and aware.
You can close your eyes, or lower your gaze while the meditations play.
- Play the first settling practice, then read through the session content, which you can print off if that helps.
- Then play the second practice to explore and experience intentionally pausing, shifting from agitation, noise, and limitation to calm, still awareness.