The Powerful Pause - How To Distinguish Meaning from Motion

Who isn’t busy, right? It seems harder and harder to find a quiet moment when there isn’t something that we feel we “should” be doing. It’s very common to feel that we’re not making progress fast enough, we’re not working hard enough, smart enough, or something or other enough and we just need to do more, and more, and more. Add in our now near surgical attachment to our smartphones, the on-demand services like NetFlix that let us “binge watch” shows for hours on end, and it’s easy to feel that we’re constantly doing or distracting.

The hours can just slip by, unconsciously, if we’re using TV as our distractor

The hours can just slip by, unconsciously, if we’re using TV as our distractor

In the midst of all this motion it’s easy to feel like life is just happening rather than we are purposefully directing its course. Whenever I feel like things aren’t going the way I’d like them to, that the results just aren’t coming in whatever area, or that I’m just not able to make a shift I want , I’ve found, on reflection, that I’ve let slip one very important practice - The Powerful Pause.

The Powerful Pause is a moment when I acknowledge that I’m either resisting, grasping, or mindlessly reacting to something and I pause, allowing myself to feel the feelings that I’m trying to ignore, instead of rushing to the distractions which hide and smother them.

People use different distractors. My current favorite is probably my phone but I’ve used all the usual suspects; food, sugar, work, TV, alcohol. Any time a very uncomfortable feeling niggled at me, I immediately went to my distractor of choice. And it’s not just in those slightly more conscious moments when the Powerful Pause is so needed, as a parent, often a frazzled parent, the Powerful Pause is a very effective ally.

Parenting is the hardest job in the world and I appreciate the amazing work that fire fighters, ER doctors, [insert name of any other admirable profession here] do but I still stand by this. The hours are un-ending and I have lost my temper far too many times to count when dealing with the inevitable sibling bickering or teenage hostility. The most effective tool I’ve ever used is the Powerful Pause. What is it?

Well it’s simple but that doesn’t mean easy. It means, staying with the parenting scenario here, in that moment when you are most triggered, instead of reacting, you literally stop, and just allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling with open-hearted, accepting, self-compassion. It is the act of creating an almost sacred space where your consciousness is raised, you are more aware, and you allow choice to resurface. You can consciously choose how you truly want to respond. It’s an opportunity for your best self to give some input, if not take the reigns entirely. It’s space for the possibility of better. It’s space for you to create a more positive experience for all involved.

Sounds easy right? I thought so when I read about it first but when I tried it with my kids, results were…hmm.. sporadic at best. It was so much harder than I had imagined. When I’m tired and I am repeating myself for what seems like the millionth time (at somewhat increased volume…) it’s really hard to entertain concepts of “Powerful Pause” and “Sacred Space”. And although I apologize to my kids if I do lose it, and am less than impressive in my parenting skills in any given interaction, I got to the point where I thought that it would definitely be better if I could just manage to have more positive interactions more often.

Parenting Magic - My boys with their dad busy in the kitchen having fun and making a beautiful mess! This was over 10 years ago so these guys are now my teenagers - 16 and 13 - a whole different ball game!

Parenting Magic - My boys with their dad busy in the kitchen having fun and making a beautiful mess! This was over 10 years ago so these guys are now my teenagers - 16 and 13 - a whole different ball game!

So, for me, it came slowly at first. However, the good news is that I found the results were so much greater than I imagined. At the beginning I sometimes had to say, “Hey, I think I need a little time here”, and I’d literally leave the situation for a few minutes to find that Powerful Pause very deliberately. Then I could come back to the interaction, calmly, and be in a place where I could purposefully choose the most beneficial response and way forward.

The kids responded and the shouting and conflict trigger points decreased significantly. It also led to some great discussions and, particularly and most importantly with teens and pre-teens, they opened up more and became much more comfortable sharing. They also were able to regulate their emotions better over time because I was no longer feeding their energy, but presenting a calmer, more centered, choice-focused response which helped them to anchor into that calmer place and let go of their own anger or frustration quicker. Win-Win!

And it’s not just in parenting situations where the Powerful Pause makes a big impact. What behavior do you indulge in when you’re trying to ignore and avoid some emotional discomfort? Is it endless NetFlix, or back and forth to the fridge at night, or maybe the bottomless wine glass? Or maybe you just find very worthy project after very worthy project so you’re constantly in motion and never have to really be with yourself and feel things that might be unsettling.

The Powerful Pause is where you allow yourself that moment and give yourself permission to just breathe into whatever it is that you’re running from. Because we all know that, like our shadows, we can’t run away from these fears and discomforts. Neither can we drown them in booze or suffocate them in chocolate - I know this from dedicated personal experience! But if you just train yourself, over time, to create these little pockets of space where you interrupt the constant motion, you can get to know this feeling rather than run.

Try the following when you feel the compulsion to ‘run’ - by grabbing that phone, or hitting play on NetFlix or grabbing the Hagen-Daz or whatever your distractor of the moment is.

  1. PAUSE

  2. Notice how you’re feeling in your body, where you might have tension.

  3. Sit with that feeling, without judgement but just with curiosity.

  4. BREATHE - Take a few, slow, deep breaths

  5. Notice what thoughts are coming up for you, what story you might be telling yourself

  6. ACKNOWLEDGE whatever fears emerge and try to meet them with calm acceptance and compassion

  7. BREATHE - Take a few more slow, deep breaths

  8. CHOOSE - Now that you have created just a little space for yourself and raised your awareness, make a conscious choice as to how you wish to act in this moment.

If you choose to watch another two episodes on Netflix, do it and enjoy it! Just giving yourself the space though to bring awareness to your actions gives you the opportunity to connect into your power and ask yourself if it’s what you consciously wish and choose to do.

In a world obsessed with motion it’s easy to get swept up and lost in “doing”. But we’re human-beings not “human-doings”. We all need space to connect to who it is we really are and how we want to show up in the world. Otherwise, I at least feel, we risk getting swept up in endless doing, disconnected from meaning, and end up feeling we’ve missed something, something that’s fundamental to the human experience, along the way.

The Powerful Pause is a way of plugging back into amazing, unique, you and taking just a little time to check in, with compassion and curiosity, to see how you are, and what adjustments might serve you. Surely you’re worth that sacred space?

Yes, you are most definitely worth it, and so, so much more.

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