It’s obvious that these are very stressful times for all of us. Even though this reality is a part of all our lives and has been for many months, the constancy of it can make us almost oblivious to its ongoing destructive impact. As human beings we can adapt to all kinds of things, making them our own inner new norm. After a while we just accept that our lives are turned upside down, that we are anxious, confused, overwhelmed, fearful and frustrated. Becoming almost complacent about this can almost signal that we have resigned ourselves to living this way.
And it still means that we are in a state of chronic hyper-vigilance, hyper-arousal and hyper- sensitivity. We are constantly on edge and can so quickly go to a place of anger or even rage that a few months ago would have only caused us minor aggravation. We can quickly misinterpret a word, a gesture, a comment made by somebody, jumping to conclusions and assuming we are being insulted or criticized. We can be so surprised when somebody takes offense at something we have said that we had no intention of meaning, interpreting it as some kind of insult or critical, derogatory comment.
None of us knows how long this will last and if we will ever return to calmer times.
Maybe we shouldn’t wish for returning to what was our previous norm. The more I learn about that norm, the more aware I am of my personal cluelessness to the pain and suffering of my Black friends who have endured the micro-aggressions that apparently are a part of their everyday world and have been since their childhood. I don’t think any of us should wish to go back to that norm.
Something I think is worthy of all our attention comes from the book The Inner Work of Racial Justice: Healing Ourselves and Transforming our Communities through Mindfulness, by Rhonda V. Magee.
In it the author encourages her readers to use a practice she calls “The Pause.” She says the following: “The Pause is an aspect of the practice of mindfulness meditation that can lead you to the experience of body-based mindfulness.” She goes on to describing mindfulness as a way to be purposeful in paying attention to what is going on in one’s mind. She says it needs to be friendly, open, nonjudgmental curiosity and it involves a willingness to accept what arises.
The directions for The Pause are relatively simple: “To practice The Pause, you simply stop what you are doing and intentionally bring your awareness to the experience of the present moment. This is the first step in engaging in mindfulness practice.” She talks about paying attention to the sensations of your breathing patterns, your breathing in and breathing out and your times of resting. She says that as you do this you should notice what your thoughts are right in the moment. You then see if you can release the thoughts. It is important to just let them be what they are and then as you release them see them leaving your mind like leaves gently falling from a tree or clouds crossing the sky. She invites her readers to then notice what is going on in their body, the sensations they are experiencing from their head to their toes. The reader can then decide what their emotions are and whether or not they like experiencing them while simultaneously not judging feelings and sensations. She emphasizes how important it is to be kind to oneself.
She recommends taking a few minutes to write down what comes up for you during your Pause. This is very important if you had strong emotions or if deep memories come to the surface. When we write down our experiences, it is one of the ways we can begin releasing the pain, fear, anxiety and stress that can be so toxic to us.
In these days of chronic, toxic stress and allostatic load, taking the time to intentionally follow this author’s suggestion of engaging in The Pause is one way we can be intentional and mindful about reducing stress and claiming our power to help manage it.
Invitation for Reflection
- To what extent are you aware of how the current crises have impacted the degrees to which you are hyper-alert, hyper-aroused, hyper-sensitive? Have you noticed that you are more easily agitated, quicker to fly off the handle? Have you caught yourself exaggerating or misinterpreting the words, inflections, facial expressions and body language of those around you? To what extent can you be kind to yourself, knowing that these are the classic symptoms of sustained, toxic stress?
- How do you think practicing The Pause might help to lessen some of your stress?
- What would it take to have you commit to taking The Pause at least four or five times a day, if not more?
- Who in your world could you explain this to and encourage them to join you in actively working to reduce your stress by engaging in The Pause?