“Between the stimulus and the response there is a space and in this space lies our power and our freedom” – Viktor Frankl
One of the things that meditation creates is a pause button.
The simple process of choosing where to put your attention and bringing it back each time you notice it’s been distracted, builds that mental muscle. In this world of hyper-distraction, the capacity to become aware of when your attention has been hijacked is a radical act!
But it does more than simply train your attention – it strengthens the part of your brain that’s responsible for making more considered decisions. So, in your eyes open life, you can pause before responding instead of simply reacting.
The moment of truth
I remember a moment that really bought home to me how disconnected I had been from that space.
It happened just as I was beginning my meditation journey over 6 years ago now.
I was walking with the kids at the park but in my head, I was thinking about how late in the afternoon it was getting. I knew that if we didn’t make tracks soon then I’d be facing meltdowns later. I worked out how long it would take us to walk home (answer: a long time!) and remembered that I hadn’t gotten anything out for dinner. I could feel a knot in my stomach at the thought of the tantrums that might follow when I then had hungry, tired and cranky kids.
We really needed to get moving.
But in that moment when I looked up from my mental chatter, the kids were completely absorbed and engrossed in the piling up of sticks activity they’d concocted.
It literally made me pause and take a breath
Suddenly I became really aware of the warmth of the sun on my face, the way the light was casting beautiful shadows as it came through the branches of the trees – backlighting the vibrant green of the leaves. I found myself acutely aware of the gentle murmuring of their voices in a rare moment of collaboration.
I realised that this was it
This was the joy that had eluded me when I had spent my days always caught up in my own head.
How easy it would have been for me to crash into their game and keep us “on track” – that arbitrary set of rules I’d constructed about how it all needed to run. And if I hadn’t paused in that moment, to really experience that moment exactly as it was, I would have created such a different situation.
I would have pushed them to get moving and probably (definitely!) experienced a backlash and meltdown. Then my whole experience of the afternoon would have become about how difficult the kids were and how hard it all was. I had been caught many times in that loop of “this is so hard” and “why can’t things be more peaceful” and more toxic, “my kids are bad kids” kind of thinking.
What a gift that pause button was!
Instead I could take real pleasure in that moment and connect with their joy. So that when it was time to go, which in reality was only a short while later than I planned, everyone was still feeling connected. Now of course it doesn’t always go that way – sometimes I would still have had the tantrums. But this way I got to experience the joy too, instead of just waiting for the bad.
So how do you create those moments to pause when you’re in the thick of it?
Here’s 3 things you can try when you feel the urge to force and push to make things happen:
The first thing you can do is reflect on how things are right now. Is this kind of scenario, whether at home or at work, playing out for you, where you unintentionally make things harder? Is there a chance that you are creating some of the tension in your day with the need to force things to happen?
Just feel into that for a moment.
Allow yourself to think about recurring pressure points. Is there a way you could let go of some of the control and allow things to happen instead?
If there’s a tiny part of you that thinks this could be happening, let go of any urge to criticise yourself for it. Accepting that this is just how it’s been, instead of diving into how it “should” be is so much kinder to yourself.
As Maya Angelou said “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better”.
This was a tough one for me. As my meditation practice gave me access to a pause button so I could see more clearly, it enabled my inner critic to have a field day with all the ways I was failing.
The final step is to commit to noticing the patterns in your life, without trying to solve everything or find solutions. Just notice and be curious.
What happens when the school run is a screaming mess? What happens before or after?
What do you notice about interacting with that one colleague that leaves you feeling angry and frustrated?
You’re just trying to get information. No effort or control required.
Build the muscle
If you really want to develop the capacity to pause and reflect before you react, try to build a daily meditation practice – even one minute a day counts.
It’s hard to imagine that something as simple as closing your eyes for a few minutes a day can make a difference. But the science is compelling and convincing that it does. (You can read more about that here – link to page on my website “why meditate”)
My own experience and that of my clients tells me the same. The more you train your mind to pay attention in your practice, even just for a few moments at a time, the easier it becomes to pay attention in your life – and that’s where it counts.
Take just a few micro moments in your day to notice that you’re here, that your body is here.
Connect to one breath and feel it come and go. Then carry on with your day feeling just a tiny bit more connected.
You can sign up for my newsletter updates from my website to receive your free 5-minute Meditation download here: https://www.bemodernmeditation.com/