Although in many ways time seems to be standing still as we ride out this pandemic, days also seem to be flying by without me even noticing. Some days, it’s kind of scary when I go to bed at night and I reflect on the day and it seems like it passed in the blink of an eye. That was a whole 12 hours? What did I even do in all of those hours?
Even when I have tangible evidence of what I actually did do that day, I sometimes don’t feel like I was actually present in doing those things which turns the day into a blur. I’m so immersed in my own little cocoon of thoughts that I don’t even realize what’s actually happening around me in each present moment. Although I’m by myself working in my apartment, some days it feels like there’s a whole crowd of people who are continually nudging me to remember to do this or to figure out that, and as a result, I’m never present with what I’m actually doing. Then before I know it, I’m feeling anxious, stressed and tired.
So how do we start to silence this inner noise that often gets in the way of true presence? Enter the Pause Practice.
The Pause Practice
The rabbit holes of thought we often find ourselves falling down can be deep, so consistent practice is required to step outside our cocoon and wake up to the world around us. The Pause Practice, taught by Pema Chödrön, is a simple mindfulness technique we can use anytime we notice ourselves falling deeper down the rabbit hole. According to Chödrön, the pause practice is “basically a practice of coming into presence or coming into consciousness.” For example, say you’re walking around the block alone and you realize that you’re constantly thinking, thinking, thinking. What will I have for dinner later tonight? Do I need to go to the store to get anything? I wonder if… What if… Should I… Did I…?
Instead of continuing down this path you pause, look out at your surroundings and take three conscious breaths. And then you simply continue walking. Then you may notice the thoughts again. Pause. And then keep walking again.
“It’s like gaps. Consciously, intentionally, creating a gap. Very short, even one breath. And you can do it anywhere.-Pema Chödrön
Although it seems extremely simple, taking these short pauses throughout your day is a powerful practice that awakens you to the present moment. When you are standing in line at the grocery store, in your car or brushing your teeth, you could look out and just pause.
Take three conscious breaths.
“Let it be a contrast to being all caught up,” she writes. “Like popping a bubble. Let it be just a moment in time, and then go on.”
One of Pema Chodron’s teachers, Trungpa Rinpoche, also equated these pauses to taking snapshots. “Go about your day as if you’re just taking snapshots.” Imagine you’re taking snapshots with your eyes and ears and give yourself little moments in time of stillness. Tune into the sights and sounds around you and remember —”It’s even better if you have a flash bulb.”