The Art of the Pause

Coping with holiday stressors can be tough. There are gifts to buy, parties to attend, and people to please. Generosity and lights are on display amidst the curious experience of everyone acting like it is 1998 when they show up at grandma’s house. This is also the time of year that we tell ourselves that we’ll learn how to cope in more healthy ways … after the new year.

But what if you could start now? Introducing: The Art of the Pause.

A ways back I stumbled upon an article by meditation teacher Jon Krop, which shares four steps toward introducing mindful pause into your life:

1. DEEP BREATH

Take a deep, slow breath, filling your lungs from bottom to top. Inhale into your lower belly and then fill upward through your mid-torso and chest. 

We're taking advantage of the well-documented connection between our breath and our mood. By slowing and deepening our breathing, we encourage feelings of relaxation and calm. 

2. TURN TOWARD THE BODY 

Next, open your attention to the sensations in your body. Let yourself notice whatever comes up: warmth, coolness, tingling, pressure, the touch of clothing, etc. There's no need to evaluate the sensations as "good" or "bad." Itching is simply itching. Coolness is simply coolness. 

If you notice a complex array of sensations: perfect. If all you notice is the feeling of your butt on the chair: also perfect. 

If you notice sensations that seem connected to stress or anxiety, those are especially good to turn toward. Most of us pull away from those sensations. This resistance is what creates suffering, not the sensations themselves.

This step needn't take longer than one in-breath or out-breath. Stay with it longer if you like, but it can be that quick. 

3. REST ATTENTION ON THE BREATH 

Rest your attention on the sensation of air touching your nostrils as you breathe. With gentle curiosity, watch the flow of changing sensations at the nostrils. These sensations anchor you in the present moment. 

In this step, there's no need to deepen or slow your breath. Let your body breathe however it wants to.

Just like the last step, this step can be as short as one in-breath or one out-breath. You might feel like staying with it longer. Up to you. 

4. CARRY ON

The last step is simply to reengage with the world, without hurry. Open your eyes if you had closed them and carry on with your day. See if you can maintain the groundedness that you've cultivated. Don't lunge for your phone or speed off to your next activity. Take a few seconds sitting or standing there quietly, and then move at a leisurely pace. 

You might be surprised at how impactful simply introducing a pause can be - whether it comes in the busyness of your errands or in a difficult conversation with a relative. It serves as a reset and is an act of compassion toward self. These steps are simple and can be applied immediately - no need to wait until the new year to engage in a new habit!

The pause works especially well in conversation. Perhaps someone has said something triggering, hurtful, or dismissive. Introducing pause can allow you space to identify what you are feeling, give you time to respond in a way you feel proud of, or prevent you from carrying on a destructive path. You might excuse yourself (hint: you can always ‘accidentally’ leave something in the car that needs retrieving), ask if you can return to the topic later, or let the silence do the talking.

The pause is all about slowing down and taking care of yourself - something we often forget to do during the holidays. The pause is powerful - as is any choice to care for yourself well.

I hope that you enjoy this holiday season and that you will give yourself the gift of the pause.