Keep your appointment with life

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“Our appointment with life is in the present moment. The place of our appointment is right here, in this very place.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

Learning to pause and recognize what is happening in the present moment is the first step in the practice of Radical Acceptance. The trouble is that the times when we need to pause the most are the times when we feel we can least afford to.

The importance of pausing is the foundation of Radical Acceptance and the subject of the third chapter of the book of the same name by Tara Brach (reading as part of my amplify goals this month).

Why pausing is important

The premise is simple enough: when we are stuck in a trance of unworthiness we aren’t aware of our struggle because we keep running from our fear rather than sit with it.

The more we fear failure the more frenetically our bodies and minds work. We fill our days with continual movement: mental planning and worrying, habitual talking, fixing, scratching, adjusting, phoning, snacking, discarding, buying, looking in the mirror. What would it be like if, right in the midst of this busyness, we were to consciously take our hands off the controls?

What is means to pause

Taking a pause isn’t about “fixing” or “analyzing” what is wrong. And it doesn’t need to be a long meditation session either.

The pause can occur in the midst of almost any activity and can last for an instant, for hours or for seasons of our life.

In a pause we simply discontinue whatever we are doing—thinking, talking, walking, writing, planning, worrying, eating—and become wholeheartedly present, attentive and, often, physically still. You might try it now: Stop reading and sit there, doing “no thing,” and simply notice what you are experiencing.

We actually already do this often and don’t realize it. How many times have you felt better after a long walk where you didn’t have to do anything and were able to relax and observe?

Pausing as a technique may feel unfamiliar, awkward or at odds with our usual way of living. But actually there are many moments—showering, walking, driving—when we release our preoccupations and are simply aware and letting life be.

Simple in theory, hard in practice

Pausing can be extremely difficult because those charged moments, when we feel threatened or in conflict, are the moments where we don’t feel like we can afford to pause. Our instinct is to respond, defend, or attack.

When we first practice pausing, we can easily be swept away into the raw feelings that have been dictating our behavior for so many years. It is important to ease in gradually, and if possible, with the support of others. […] Yet if we get caught in a charged situation, a good way to begin is to take a “time-out” and find a quiet, safe place to practice the pause. It always helps to start with a few deep breaths, consciously relaxing the body and mind.

If we can find the space to pause, we can respond with more wisdom and, somewhat counterintuitively, more power.

In bullfighting there is an interesting parallel to the pause as a place of refuge and renewal. It is believed that in the midst of a fight, a bull can find his own particular area of safety in the arena. There he can reclaim his strength and power. This place and inner state are called his querencia.

As long as the bull remains enraged and reactive, the matador is in charge. Yet when he finds querencia, he gathers his strength and loses his fear. From the matador’s perspective, at this point the bull is truly dangerous, for he has tapped into his power.

Life happens in the pauses

Pausing is not a technique for dealing only with conflict and heated moments though, it is an essential practice for us as humans in order to remain balanced and thrive.

The pauses in our life make our experience full and meaningful. The well-known pianist Arthur Rubinstein was once asked, “How do you handle the notes as well as you do?” His response was immediate and passionate, “I handle notes no better than many others, but the pauses—ah! That is where the art resides.”

Remember to pause and keep your appointment with life!

Practice pausing

Here is a simple experiment at the end of the chapter for getting started with pausing:

Experiment by choosing one thing you do daily and make a weeklong commitment to pause before beginning this activity. It might be brushing your teeth, making a phone call, getting out of the car, taking a sip of tea, turning on your computer. Each time, take a few moments to pause, relax and bring awareness to what is happening within you.

Also, my favorite meditation companion Waking Up by Sam Harris has a built in feature to remind you to take short pauses/breaks like this. 😃

For my previous entries on Radical Acceptance, see the following:

Comments welcome!

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