It's said that the only constant is change. We think that life is static and fixed but it is constantly expanding and unfolding before us. It happens in ways we sometimes don't like or want, and we see that there is very little we actually can control. That can be scary to think about, so as humans we keep trying to find ground under our feet, something certain that we can hang on to.
The struggle is real. I was reminded of this while attending a Buddhist retreat in the woods of Vermont. I was joined by over 300 people, all seeking wisdom and advice from the teacher of the weekend, the great Pema Chodron. Folks came from all over the world wanting to know how to get off the wheel of samsara, or constant suffering. They wanted answers to find more peace, comfort and joy in their lives.
The advice of the weekend was "learn to sit with things as they are. Stop wanting a different now."
But sitting still can be challenging, especially when we have experienced tremendous pain, loss or challenging circumstances. When we struggle with self-acceptance. When we think our shadow side is a fault instead of the balance to the light within us. Not everyone feels comfortable sitting with the painful feelings of those experiences. So instead, we fill our lives with busy-ness--constantly filling our daily existence with thing after thing, drink after drink, meal after meal, tv show after tv show, etc. to escape the reality of now. We think we can outrun the feelings but they just hide out and eventually come to the surface or show up as chronic illness, disease or something else. When we run like a hamster on a wheel, we often think we'll get closer to the solution of finding escape or refuge from whatever causes us pain or uneasiness. The paradox of pressing pause is that it actually brings us closer to the truth and relief we are seeking. It is difficult to do, because we become conditioned and habituated to the schedule and habits we've been cultivating.
A new client said to me recently when I recommended slowing down, "this just isn't me". She was right. It is a new and difficult concept for her to learn how to move more slowly, so it feels foreign and unfamiliar and hard. But new and different feels hard until we do it more often and it becomes our new normal.
The merits of pressing pause is that we can learn to be with those feelings and befriend them so we don't feel the need to run from them anymore. When we press pause, we can gain much-needed perspective. We can make time to allow answers to the questions we have in our hearts and minds. We can meet new people and hear their stories of overcoming adversity. We can give our minds and bodies a break from the constant production of cortisol and other stress hormones. Our bellies become less tight. Our headaches dissipate. Our throats soften. Pressing pause allows us to see things as they are, and as we are.
I know how it feels to try to apply the brakes. It sometimes feels counterintuitive because I've spent many years filling my time with all the things so I can feel productive, like I'm constructively creating my future. But rest is part of achieving balance. Silence and dormant periods happen in nature alongside growth and movement. As spring emerges, we see the merits of the plants and animals pressing pause over the winter. We see that new life is possible from much-needed rest.
The merits of pressing pause is the ability to refuel our gas tanks to keep producing. The perspective gained to know which direction to take. The insight needed to make healthy choices.
As I've reached the end of some major life changes, I'm intentionally carving out space to rest, relax, recover and plan my next steps. I noticed myself feeling symptoms from the months of running on empty, so it's time to fill up my gas tank again. There's no hurry. No rush. Rushing rarely makes anything work better.
Pressing pause doesn't mean we have to stop--but it is essential for us to be able to keep going.
TIPS for pressing PAUSE:
1) put your phone on airplane mode while charging it at night
2) take 5 deep breaths when starting your computer each day
3) walk to work or school whenever possible
4) schedule days off, alone, with no plans
5) establish start and end times to your work/school day
What tips have you tried that help you press pause? Share in the comments below.