What’s in a pause?

As we enter another period of national lockdown, I reflect on the power of a pause.

Last year, I thoroughly enjoyed reading and scribbling all over @robpoynton‘s book ‘Do Pause’ for the fabulous @DoBookCo. One lunchtime, earlier on this year, I took some time to listen to his recent lecture ‘Why we all need to pause right now’. It couldn’t have been more what I needed to hear.

I just wanted to recognise, before we go any further, that for a lot of the population this time hasn’t been one of great pause but of immense busy-ness. For others it may have resulted in an unwelcome pause as they’ve seen an unexpected break in their work and drop in salary. For some, this pause will have been characterised by a continued use of food banks and the stress of juggling even more parts of life than usual. Many may be suffering from additional mental health concerns and loneliness. For those of us without these feelings and concerns, take a moment to be grateful for all that you have. Also notice the feelings that do arise for you. Notice them and appreciate that they exist. Someone else’s suffering being greater doesn’t negate the existence of your own.

The tiniest of pauses may still count whatever context we find ourselves in at this time. A small example from Robert: take a breath & count to one as you pass through a door. Or something I’ve been practising of late: setting a timer for 5 minutes and focus on nothing but your breathing in the quietest place you can find. Or sit and listen to one piece of music you wouldn’t normally listen to, focusing on the sensations as you hear it for the first time. Whatever it is, take a moment to ground yourself and resist lurching from one crisis or Zoom meeting to the next.

For many of us, this pause has granted us permission to engage in daily exercise, permission to spend time with family, permission to read, bake, garden, do all the things we never have the time for. Over the years, I’ve been interested in the idea of express permission to drive behaviours. Get curious – What is this pause giving you permission for? How can you give into that rather than automatically filling your time with obligation?

This time contains uncertainty deep and wide. It’s ok to not know what’s going on – we can accept and own this without letting it paralyse us. John Keats’ theory of negative capability is helpful at this time – ‘Able to be in uncertainty without irritable reaching after fact and reason.’

The risk of this particular pause is that we get frantic in our bias to action & for those of us not on the frontline, we can reach for this unnecessarily. We might instead choose to hold our desire to ‘get out of this’ to one side and be willing to be in the uncertainty of it.

‘There ain’t no answer. There ain’t going to be any answer. There never has been an answer. That’s the answer.’ Gertrude Stein.

This pause holds the space open for a time of willingness, kindness and permission to try new things – the stakes are lower. Don’t pander to the sensation that there is an answer to be known and sought.

In Zadie Smith’s recent reflections, written in lockdown, she writes, ‘I’m not the only person on this earth who has no idea what life is for, nor what is to be done with all this time aside from filling it.’

We can choose to leave the illusions of urgency and productivity aside and instead sink into this background of stillness and quiet. We can invite ourselves to stop, enjoy, notice, take in the beauty of the things around us but also the quality of those things inside us too.

We can use this pause and stillness to get straight to the important questions: What do you miss? What do you not miss? What has faded away that you are glad about? What might you choose to let go of? Notice what’s naturally slipping away and what’s rising to the surface. I enjoy receiving monthly journal prompts from Alex Elle that can help to reach the heart of a thing.

Instead of giving into the pressure of productivity, we could choose to experience some ‘inhale’ time to refresh, centre and nourish our energies. How might you differentiate between inhale and exhale time in your days? Aim to move between productivity and replenishment, rather than just using replenishment as an antidote to extended periods of productivity that leave you exhausted.

The promise of this pause is both enormous and unknown. Our challenge is to put it to constructive use. Note: this does not mean frantic productivity! Let’s wonder at what might happen when everyone’s attention is in the same place. All of us visibly vulnerable together.

Pay attention to your energy. Hold yourself gently and kindly.

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