Recently I’ve been listening to Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance audiobook and it’s been such a delight to sink my teeth into these practical teachings on self acceptance through mindfulness. Tara really gets what’s going on inside us: all the reasons we’re so hard on ourselves, how difficult it is to try to be better and fail spectacularly. One teaching that I think is particularly helpful is what she calls the “Sacred Pause.” This is a basic mindfulness technique to simply pause and realign yourself to the present.
One suggestion she makes–and that I find very applicable–is to choose an activity that you will intentionally do a pause before for about a week. Of course, you can do pauses throughout the day, but scheduling a few pauses ensures that you stay engaged with the practice and can reap the benefits of incorporating more mindfulness into your daily life.
The Writer’s Sacred Pause
Since we’re writers, I’ve found that pausing before I sit down at my laptop is a good chance to center myself. You can pause every time you return to the laptop–whether you’ve been gone for hours or a few minutes–or every time you’re about to work on your book. Pausing reminds you that you’re not your to-do list, nor are you your inner critic’s punching bag. It reminds you to take a breath, to just be, to remember that you are alive and that only this breath is guaranteed. It can also be a great tool to keep those fingers from straying to social media accounts when they should be writing dialogue.
How To Pause
A pause can be as short as a minute. Close your eyes if you’d like (unless you’re driving, then, you know, don’t). Breathe. Feel what’s going on in your body. Don’t get into your head about it. Don’t psychoanalyze. It’s kind of a mini mindfulness meditation. Feel what you’re feeling. Are you angry? Where do you feel that anger? In your chest, maybe? As thoughts arise, just note them. Don’t cling to them or follow them down the rabbit hole. Notice them. The pause is all about BEING. Really aligning yourself to the present. Feel the wind on your skin. The sun. Hear that dog barking. Breathe. Breathe. And….scene.
Tara explains that one of the great things about the pause is that it disrupts our habitual patterns of storylines, negativity toward ourselves, and the hamster wheel of our mind:
A pause is, by nature, time limited. We resume our activities, but we do so with increased presence and more ability to make choices. In the pause before sinking our teeth into a chocolate bar, for instance, we might recognize the excited tingle of anticipation, and perhaps a background cloud of guilt and self-judgment. We may then choose to eat the chocolate, fully savoring the taste sensations, or we might decide to skip the chocolate and instead go out for a run. When we pause, we don’t know what will happen next. But by disrupting our habitual behaviors, we open to the possibility of new and creative ways of responding to our wants and fears.
~ Tara Brach
As a strategy for dealing with difficult emotion, the sacred pause is not unlike the RAIN technique that I’ve mentioned before. (You can also try it out with my guided RAIN Meditation For Writers). It can really help you become more aware of how often your emotions guide your words and actions and thoughts. I use the pause when I’m about to complain (I struggle with negativity) or when I feel angry or irritated (#newyorker). I use it when I realize I’m falling into some of my storylines: that I’m invisible, that my depression is never going to take a hike, that my books aren’t good enough. Focusing on how these emotions and thoughts affect my body gives me a chance to separate myself from them, to know I am NOT my anger or sadness or hurt.
- you get a rejection letter
- your critique partner says your book is a mess
- you can’t figure out your plot
- you get a terrible review
- your inner critic says you suck
- your bank account is low and you feel like you can’t justify writing anymore
- you want to quit
- you want to cry
- you want to scream
- you want to take your anger about your career out on someone
- your agent doesn’t call you back
- your editor doesn’t return your email
- you don’t get invited to a literary festival your friends are signing at
- you see your sales numbers
- you lose followers on Twitter
- no one likes that post you wrote about craft
- you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing when you sit down to write
- you feel sad
- you feel alone
- you feel like your work doesn’t matter
- you feel like you don’t matter
When you finish reading this, take a pause. When you’re through, you might note anything you’re feeling. Perhaps a tad lighter. Or not. No expectations. Just do the pause and move on with your day.
The Pause Challenge
Comment below and tell me what activity you’re going to pause before this week. It might be before you write, or brush your teeth, or drink your coffee. If you get a chance, come back after the week is through and tell me how pausing throughout the week went.
Breathe. Write. Repeat.
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Pause illustration by Daily Letterings