Are you any good at pressing pause?
I’ll admit it’s something I still struggle with.
I’ve always been a doer who likes to account for every spare minute. I love lists, ticking things off and feeling accomplished. And my brain is always fizzing with ideas which makes it damned hard to switch off.
Up until 3.5 years ago, I was hitting the gym three nights a week, blasting balls on a tennis court at the weekends, and travelling the world for both work and pleasure.
I thought I was living my best life, wrongly associated downtime with laziness and barely stood still.
Then overnight my health fell apart. Just like that. They say life begins at 40 but just three weeks after the big event (I celebrated with an 80s fancy dress party, of course) I was lying in a resuscitation ward connected to tubes and monitors and it wasn’t because I’d necked too many rum and cokes.
It’s been a long old road – you can read about the night it all began here – but it seems my mast cells, allergy cells responsible for immediate allergic reactions, are up the spout. The disease is a complex one.
“Machines run well at constant speed. People don’t.”
Every day is a challenge. Perfume, chemicals, fragrances, heat, sunlight and intense exercise can all trigger my tongue swelling reactions and along with multiple foods – it’s impossible to eat out – and I’d be lying if I said this pesky illness didn’t get me down. But for the best part, I handle it by refusing to dwell on the negatives.
By practising mindfulness and embracing the now (instead of getting lost in fears that my health will continue to deteriorate), by expressing gratitude for every little thing, and focussing on what this experience has taught me rather than what I’ve lost.**
Along the way, I’ve met some truly incredible new people, rediscovered my creativity via this blog and learned a heck of a lot about myself – this illness has been the most mahoosive teacher.
Slowly but surely I’m shedding layers of the old me, the patterns and conditioning that kept me rooted in the past and no longer serve and opening up to the new infinite possibility.
Yes, the healing path is potholed at times but it’s fascinating, too, as there are so many elements to explore. I truly feel as though my soul is awakening and the light within is beginning to glow.
But hear this. My body had to quite literally pack up to make me slow down and take heed.
How long had it been screaming at me to listen?
Perhaps it had been whispering to me for years but I was too busy living life in the fast lane to pay it any attention.
This is precisely why Robert Poynton, an associate fellow of the Saïd Business School at Oxford University and author of Do Pause: You Are Not A To Do List, encourages people to “make pause a thing.”
“Machines run well at constant speed: people don’t,” he tells Relax Ya Self To Health. “If you don’t learn to pause life may force you to – often abruptly or violently.”
Robert, who lives in an off-grid, solar-powered house outside the small Spanish town of Arenas de San Pedro, explains that coping mechanisms often take the form of meditation apps, weekend breaks and annual holidays, but things soon revert. This is why we need a more sustainable approach – an ability to press pause.
“Instead of aspiring to be ‘always on’, make pause a ‘thing’ for yourself,” he says. “Sending a signal to yourself that pauses matter shifts your attention and your behaviour. You start to notice how, where and when you pause (or don’t) and where you could play around with pauses of different kinds, short or long, to suit your own circumstances.”
Below, Robert shares his top tips on how to help you slow down, even if you think you’re too busy.
HOW TO PRESS PAUSE GUIDE
USE THE SPACES IN BETWEEN
Instead of seeing them as a waste of time reframe them as pauses. See the commute, or the wait for a coffee as something in its own right, not as a frustrating delay. Don’t fill the time with distractions such as music, games, and social media but allow yourself to sink into an empty moment and notice what is going on around you or within you. Be like an artist, and work with the ‘negative space’ between the ‘objects’ of your life.
SET TRIP WIRES AND SPEED BUMPS
In a Zen monastery, there is a wooden bar across the door into the meditation hall. It is there to make you pause. You can do something similar. Count to ten (or one!) before you enter a room or pick up the phone. Spend thirty seconds on the threshold when you get home before you enter. Create habits and routines that are triggered by moments that crop up regularly and you will start to weave pauses into your life.
HAND OVER MIND
Let the hand dominate the mind. Set aside a little time (every day, or week) to write or draw. Don’t aim at anything, just see what comes. Write automatically, draw whatever is in front of you, or doodle. It is about the process, not the result so you could use your ‘other’ hand or throw away the paper once you are done. Give yourself a chunk of time where your hand is leading your mind, without trying to get anything done.
USE YOUR BODY
Change your body and you change your mind – they aren’t separate. So a walk – short or long – will change what you see and how you feel. Pay attention to how your feet meet the ground, how your body moves. Notice where your mind wanders to.
CELEBRATE AN OFFICIAL BIRTHDAY
A pause isn’t just a moment. It could be a ‘Screen Free Saturday’, a ‘Think Week’ or a sabbatical year. Why not take an annual pause on your birthday. Take the day off, or use it to review the past year or the year to come. If it feels too much like work on your actual birthday, how about giving yourself an official birthday, like the Queen? A single day, once a year, where you allow yourself to disconnect from everything you normally do and see what comes up.
Do Pause: You are not a to do list by Robert Poynton is published by the Do Book Co.
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Thank you, as always, for your support.
**This is a personal self-care and wellbeing blog. The methods that work for me might not work for you. If you are prone to depression or struggle with your mental health please do seek professional medical advice. Helpful links can be found at the bottom of this post here.