Being someone with a tendency to rush through endings in some bizarre race to get to the next new project, relationship, activity, opportunity, conversation, item on my to-do list…I have greatly underestimated and underutilised the value of pausing.
I’ve learnt the hard way the wisdom this quote continues with: “If you don’t pause you will do what you’ve always done.” Absolutely true in my experience – my autopilot is only too happy to keep running the show; or my resistance to be with my pain or shame keeps me in perpetual motion; or my lack of reflection keeps me from learning what went wrong (and right); or my propensity to blame continues to deflect insight.
I finally learnt the art of pausing in my thirties when I took my first mindfulness course. Learning to pause truly is the first step toward transformation and healing. I pause by literally stopping what I’m doing – I stop blaming, withdrawing, obsessing, distracting myself. In the space a pause creates, my natural awareness arises, allowing me to recognise what’s happening inside me with as little story, or judgment as possible. By pausing, I’m able to dismantle lifelong patterns of avoiding or distancing.
Take reactivity – which seems to be one of my biggest challenges – when I pause and become a little stiller, I’m able to gain insight into my reactivity rather than being carried away with the momentum of blame or shame. The next step is to ask myself “What’s happening inside me right now?” and then bringing wholehearted attention to whatever is taking place in my body and thoughts—the squeeze of anxiety, the heat of anger, the stories of who did what.
While continuing to notice whatever is most predominant or difficult, I then ask myself: “Can I accept this experience, just as it is?” Whether I’m fuming with anger, dissolving in sorrow, or gripped by fear, I’ve learnt that my most powerful and healing response is an allowing, warm presence—not indulging or wallowing in my feelings but simply acknowledging and experiencing what is happening in the present moment. By accepting what is, I am more able to let go of the story of blame or shame that either pushes away another or condemns my own feelings as bad or wrong.
Let me give you an example, this past Sunday morning, my partner seemed irritated and sulky, and I figured he was punishing me because I had wanted to stay in the night before and he wanted to go out. This made me furious, and the unexpected intensity of my rage reminded me to pause. When I asked myself, “What’s happening inside me right now?” I immediately felt a stabbing hurt, like a knife in my chest. In my mind, I heard the words, ‘He doesn’t love me for who I am. I can’t trust that he loves me at all’ Suddenly, that seemed like the truth. I totally believed it!
My eyes started stinging, and I felt like a small girl all alone. But rather than blaming my partner for not loving me, I just imagined holding that little girl and telling her I understood how hurt and lonely she was. I was reminded that I’ve felt like that ever since I was very small – that nobody would ever really love me. Not my partner, not anyone. My adult self sat with this small one in loving attention with my hand on my heart and comforted and soothed her.
This ‘compassionate pause’ as I’ve come to call it, allowed me to avoid lashing out reactively in anger and instead get in touch with the part of me that needed loving attention, allowed me to face the truth of my hurt and fear.
May we all experience a compassionate pause when we need it most this week.
With great warmth