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Writer-s-Bloc

Practising the pause

By Matthew Rigby

You need to take a moment.

I know, I know. You don’t have a moment. You’re multitasking. You’re stressed. All of life’s usual chaos hasn’t magically disappeared with the passing of a new year, and now you have a handful of resolutions that you may or may not have already broken. (Hey, you made it a week… that’s something).

You’re pushing a boulder uphill at work, and taking your hand off for even a second costs something. You’re overwhelmed at home. The house and its residents resist any and all attempts at cleaning or organizing. You finish one meal only to be asked when the next snack or meal will be. You read the news on your phone and you’re anxious and angry. You feel more isolated than ever before, despite being surrounded by people and online connections. You feel like the wheels are coming off, and you’re exhausted from keeping up appearances. 

How did I do? I don’t know you at all, but I’m willing to bet that I hit at least a few nails on the head. I would bet this because I feel the exact same way regularly, and so do many of my friends and colleagues (once we finally feel safe enough around each other to be even a little honest and vulnerable). 

It’s my sincere belief that the vast majority of us are more anxious and stressed than ever before. Practices such as yoga, meditation, mindfulness, or even just breathing deeply have skyrocketed in popularity and interest because we are desperate to take a moment. Re-acquaint ourselves with our body, our breath, and our thoughts.

And I can’t write to you as a practitioner or expert in any of these disciplines. I’m a novice at even simple breathing meditation. I feel too old and out of shape to subject myself to a local yoga studio, or even slip in the back row of a local YMCA class. And being aware of my thoughts is dizzying, like eavesdropping on a drunk who has suddenly lost all filter. 

But what I have found (and attempt to practice) is the pause. The space between input and reaction. A willingness to sit with that which we are unsure of, uncomfortable with, or afraid of. And of course, ‘sitting with’ may not involve sitting at all! Sometimes we can manage no more of a pause than a deep, slow breath. Sometimes that’s enough. Sometimes ‘sitting with’ is actually standing at a sink full of dishes without music, podcast or Netflix. Sometimes ‘sitting with’ is folding clothes in silence. Sometimes ‘sitting with’ is going for a walk with your dog.

I like the pause. It comes a little too naturally, and I can extend it a little too long. When I’m overwhelmed or stressed, I like to freeze everything. No new input. Everybody stop moving.

Of course, that doesn’t usually work. I work in an emergency department. I don’t get to ask the emergencies to hold off until I feel ready for them. Neither can I expect even my closest friends or family to wait indefinitely until I am ready to respond to the next choice/plan/requirement. The world doesn’t care about your pause. The world remains just as demanding as it was a second ago.

A pause is not a stop. It is implied that you will continue moving, continue engaging, continue to react to what your world presents to you. A pause is simply space and time to defer your judgment. To gain a little perspective. To think about your response and actions.

When you read about the increasing escalation in Iran. Pause.

When you are frustrated with corruption in government. Pause. 

When you feel like your job is all consuming. Pause.

When you read something grossly offensive in the comment section. Pause.

(And seriously: never, ever, read the comment section.)

The pause doesn’t negate what you are feeling. It only gives it space. It tells you that you don’t need to react in this moment. Breathe. 

A while ago I thought that someone should invent a new form of social media. You could call it “Slow Facebook” or “Slow Twitter” (catchy names I know). You could comment on someone’s post, but only a day later. Imagine how many fewer Twitter feuds would exist if someone had to sit with their idea for 24 hours. Imagine how many responses would simply be shrugged off, as people’s anger had a chance to dissipate. 

When we don’t have the pause, this is what I believe we are left with: fear and anger. Read any divisive online post or comment section and see how true this is. One of the best status updates I ever read on Twitter belongs to the author Robin Hobbs: “Good morning Twitter, what are we outraged about today?

Outrage is understandable. Fear and anger is an appropriate response to the potential start of a new war. Appropriate when you see a government official dismantling political safeguards meant to ensure a healthy democracy. Appropriate when you feel that your life’s work is reinforcing the wealth of the top 1%, while you struggle with inflation and bills. Appropriate when you see ignorant and hurtful notions being slung and celebrated online.

But the practice of the pause reminds us that we are not at our smartest, deepest, most grounded selves in the moment of insecurity. A pause reminds us that situations are more complex than they initially appear. The pause reminds us that while news stories break in the first 15 minutes, their full context may not be revealed in the next 15 years. The pause reminds us that complex problems will require intelligent solutions. The pause reminds us that there is joy, vitality and beauty to life that we will not see or experience if we continue to run around frantically. The pause reminds that we have more emotions than simply fear and anger. 

So at the start of this upcoming year and decade, consider practicing the pause. Consider this the easiest of your resolutions. There’s no weight to lose, no gym to join, no budget to stick to. Just the consideration that maybe, just maybe, we need to take a moment when we’re unsure, stressed, angry or overwhelmed.

We will pause. We will breathe. We will reflect. And then we will engage.

And if you completelydisagree, feel free to tell me so in the comments section (but maybe wait 24 hours).

Matt is a grateful husband to one, father to three. He works as a registered nurse in emergency and acute care. He writes, records, schemes and dreams at somethingfromeverything.com.



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