Why I didn’t practice what I preached but was saved by a pause
Updated: Jun 23, 2020
During the lockdown I was reminded that a pause is a huge gift. Taking a pause helped me notice more about what was going on for me, what I was doing with my time, and to ask myself what I want to put my energy towards.
Only a month ago, I wrote in my last newsletter/blog about how we can’t control the “storm” of this pandemic. I discussed how useful it is to know what we can control, and put our energy there. For instance, we can calm ourselves, I wrote. If only it was so easy. We are up against the tendency of our minds to become turbulent when facing stress and change. We forget how to find peace and stability. Even those of us who should know better!
Even though I had just articulated how following the news left me feeling disorientated, I soon found myself again drifting towards just one more bit of news. After all, this crisis was so big and I was trying to make sense of it, analyse it, predict what would happen. I was following headlines that made me feel angry, outraged, happy, or just filled my mind. Maybe to avoid the emotions and sense of overwhelm that intermittently arose as I thought about the crisis. I found myself drawn towards the news when I was feeling lethargic. But that one more bite of information was draining me further.
An internal warning bell rang and I put back up an old sticker I used to have on my cupboard reminding me to pause. When I paused, even only for a moment, I started to notice what was going on. I could see some unconscious force at play, and I could see that it wasn’t helpful for me.
I did get pretty curious about what had been going on: how come something that I knew very well was not helpful for me was at the same time so compelling?
There is a good reason why we forget to ask “what is valuable enough for me to put my energy towards?” Humans are drawn to the immediacy of stimulation, novelty, excitement, danger, threat and feel a corresponding urge to act, to do something, to solve problems. No one ever sold a newspaper with the headline, “As expected, there’s ups and downs but history shows that humans get through crises in the end.” Our heads involuntarily turn to look at a car crash. In evolutionary terms it kept our species alive, alertness to danger ensures ongoing survival.
Our socialization too has encouraged inclination to information and action: ‘Be well-informed,’ ‘Be a proactive problem- solver,’ ‘Rise to the challenge.’ These traits built by nature and nurture are then used by media companies: pulling us in, exciting a reaction from us. In a way our brains are being hijacked by internal and external factors, as we find ourselves veering away from what we know in our hearts, losing our intentions, almost squirming to avoid doing things that are good for us.
Acting against our better judgement is a fascinating quirk of human nature. Ancient Greek philosophers had a word for it: akrasia. It describes the disposition to act contrary to what we know is good for us. Reading about this was comforting, knowing that I am part of a very human club!
A pause creates a sense of stability. When we pause our innate awareness grows, we can dust off that inner sense of knowing what is right. When we pause, we give ourselves a chance to see what is going on. Maybe we can come to terms with things as they are, things we don’t know, storms we can’t control. A pause cultivates a sense of knowing what is of value, and how and where we choose to place our attention and our energy.
Over the last couple of weeks I completely changed a lifetime habit formed from a family history of “keeping up with the news.” How is it that after a hard day's work we 'relax' into watching calamitous news? I now ask myself whether certain information is necessary to keep me adequately informed or if there is something else going on. What need is it feeding? Is this good place to put my energy at this moment? I manage my news intake: getting the basic gist of what is going on, and only going deeper if I feel it is rewarding, helping me to process this event.
I paused to work out what might be a better way to address my periods of lethargy. I saw that my mind needed rest and care, not stimulation and distraction. I spent more time walking outside, meditating, and listening to music. I enjoyed slow mindful yoga, helped by lovely online classes from Om studio where I normally go. I feel better.
Developing one's capacity to pause will be one element of the special sessions I am running at this time. Check out my courses page.