As another year draws to a close, people tend to get either excited or melancholy. The holidays tend to bring a pause to the daily rush – many stores and offices close on national holidays, forcing a pause for some (though not for all). Gatherings with toasts for what’s to come abound. For some people, this moment to take a break, reflect on the year, and celebrate with others is a welcome joy in anticipation of what lies ahead. For others, this moment is uncomfortable, for interrupting the constant movement also means having to face oneself – where one has been and where on may be going. For many, it is far easier to stay in the busyness of “life” than to actually live “in life” – with all its messiness. When I walked the Camino de Santiago, I recall hearing about a phenomena where some pilgrims cannot handle a lengthy time walking by themselves without the aid of constant music, chatter of friends, or comfort of alcohol. Some pilgrims idealize an “escape from  real life,” only to go “mad,” having for the first time to confront themselves and what demons lie beneath. Even those of us who are not pilgrims often daydream of escaping the hectic daily lives for a remote idyllic farmhouse in France. Yet we don’t consider the reality that such an idyllic life also means we have to be more at peace with the hectic insides of our minds. The reality is no matter where we go, our minds come with us. So it becomes a matter of embracing what is in front of us, learning to pause, quieting the mind, coming to peace with what’s inside, and from there, truly living.

The Power of the Pause

Tim Tompkins speaks about how we won’t ever escape the hustle and bustle of life, so it becomes that much more important to take time to reflect, celebrate, and renew. He advocates for using the mind to overcome the madness of the external world, rather than to avoid its challenges.

“Take a walk with a turtle. And behold the world in pause.”

~ Bruce Feiler


The Flow of the Pause

Embrace the madness to find peace

  1. Embrace the madness

We often think that the only way to achieve inner peace is by going off to an ashram or monastery. On the contrary, these places of solitude may only work for a moment, and upon return, the sense of peace dissipates the moment someone cuts us off on the highway. Rather than running away to find the quiet, if we learn to quiet the mind while embracing what is in front of us – all the hectic rush and go-go-go, we can begin to achieve real inner peace and perhaps greater compassionate for those around us. Consider taking a long walk through the city – not rushing – just a stroll, being honked at, pushed, and embrace the moments while maintaining a steady pace, observing the interactions without letting the immediate reactive emotions take over. Jump in.

  1. Breathe

We’ve all heard it before – the importance of breath. It’s the foundation in tai chi, yoga, meditation – all of which have been studied for thousands of years to improve mindfulness and inner peace. It shouldn’t surprising then that thousands of years of practice may be onto something. Consider pausing and taking five deep breaths the next time something happens where the reptilian brain is wanting to immediately react. In those five short breaths, it is amazing how much can change. Friendships can be saved, enemies can be won over, and conflicts can be avoided.

  1. Observe with detachment

Pauses give us permission to take a step back and consider what is happening without acting or reacting based on what we believe is happening in the moment. Detaching ourselves for a moment is not the same as avoiding. On the contrary, it is sitting with what is occurring – as comfortable or uncomfortable as it might be – and taking a different perspective on it.  We are naturally selfish – our instinct is self-preservation. Yet sometimes, what seems to be self-preservation may actually harm us in the long run. By detaching ourselves for a moment, we can be more thoughtful about our actions.

4. Make friends with the mind
The pause can be uncomfortable, particularly when we view our minds as our enemies. It is human for us to question our own logic or decisions. Yet if we dwell on these questions and get frustrated that our “brain betrays us,” we’re never truly at peace. The increase in interest in yoga and other mindbody work is also connected with an increased need for people to seek a stillness. Yet oftentimes, the physical practice doesn’t quite translate to the inner practice. After all, it isn’t unheard of that we hear disputes erupt in yoga studios or ego battles in retreats. We may be still, but if we continue to battle our minds, we are never truly in pause. Allowing for thoughts – as logical or illogical as they may be – to rise and fall without judgment help to remind us that our minds are our friends.

  1. Laugh

We often take life too seriously. During the year-end “reflection,” we often beat ourselves up over the shoulda-woulda-coulda. We regret. We get mad at ourselves. This keeps us in a constant loop of acting to react, rather than pause, acknowledge what was, and perhaps even see the absurdity in it all. Monty Python was on to something – life, as serious and dire as it sometimes get be, is something to embrace and yes, even laugh at. When we pause, we can find that tiny sliver where a sense of humor can help us see that all will be well.