walking alone on the Bigurda Trail last week (Kalbarri, Western Australia)
Last year I worked with a coach. During one of our first conversations, he said, “It sounds like what you need is to pause.”
That sounded right.
“Yes!” I said. “I do pause, though. I often pause, see where I’m at, re-assess, and make a new list for what to do next.”
My coach’s wry smile stopped me. He said, “That’s an active pause, but I think you’re talking about the need for a non-active pause.”
A non-active pause? An actual pause where nothing happens but the act of pausing? I wondered what that looked like. I had spent so long working on habits and systems for efficiency and productivity that I struggled to consider the why and what this kind of pausing.
My coach emailed me the goal of ‘finding pause and energy’ after our conversation. He additionally suggested the following actions.
- Take moments through the course of the day to pause and just be present—not think about what’s just happened or anticipate the next step.
- Identify and prioritise some opportunities to just ‘be’ with husband and friends—put some energy back into those aspects of life.
- Identify what ‘energises’ in work and outside—perhaps identify moments in the past (at various stages) when you felt most energised.
He also sent me Adam Fraser’s framework for finding the ‘third space’ and a link to this youtube clip on ‘the third space’ (the micro transition between one activity or role and the next).
Ok, I thought. I can work on pausing. I immediately changed the mini-blackboard message in my office from ‘start now’ to ‘pause, breathe, be’. It reminded me about finding pauses in my day, but the challenge was actually taking them!
Yoga has always helped me tap into ways to be present. Last year, I began flotation tank floating, which showed me the power of sensory deprivation, of unplugging from sounds, sights and from the feeling that at every moment I should be doing something useful and productive.
Yet while I could schedule gym sessions and floats, I still found it difficult to find small ways each day to tune in to pausing or being present.
At the beginning of this year I talked to a friend whose motto for ordering coffee was to ‘have it there’. That is, when he orders coffee from a café, he takes the time to sit and enjoy it there, before moving on to the next part of his day. I wondered about the impact of ‘have it there’, instead of ‘drink it on the run’, or ‘multi-task to save time’, or ‘have it while driving or engaging with a computer or device’.
I committed this year to eating lunch away from my desk. When I’m feeling under pressure I tend to eat and work, but I decided it was important that I find 15-40 minutes per day to sit, alone or with colleagues, and mindfully eat something. I have broken that commitment twice only so far this year. I told colleagues about my lunch promise, so they have helped to keep me accountable. More than once someone has walked past my office and either invited me to sit with them, or asked, “You’re not eating lunch at your desk, are you?” So I have ended up with a little lunchtime community, as well as a pause in my day.
I have also tried to find a few minutes each day to breathe mindfully. Sometimes I find these minutes at work, sometimes at home, and sometimes just before I go to sleep. On occasion I turn off the music in my car and drive in silence. I go to the gym three times per week and try to find other activity on other days, with varying degrees of success. I have been floating in flotation tanks about every 6 weeks.
Despite my attempts at finding pause, and my focus on light-ness, I finished Term 1 feeling rushed and frantic. Last week I took leave from work, during the school holidays. During the week I tried to focus on slow, deliberate living focused on relationships and experiences, rather than goals and actions.
I read fiction in the sun. I walked. Contemplated. Embraced stillness and movement. I stayed out of social media discussions about education. I didn’t write. I didn’t read for work. I gave myself permission to eat a nutritious breakfast, and to sit and enjoy it. I played board games and had long conversations with my husband and children. I spent time outside, in nature, and alone. I hung out with friends and family. I enjoyed going to the gym and having a leisurely coffee afterwards, looking out over the ocean.
Pausing is difficult but what is even more difficult is prioritising it as important rather than ‘nice to have’. What seems so possible during a holiday is challenging to bring into the busyness of everyday working-parenting-living life.
Where do you, or where could you, find a pause in your day, your week, your month?