I just started reading a wonderful book by Oren Jay Sofer called Say What You Mean: A mindful approach to nonviolent communication. What I love about his approach is that it is grounded in three areas that I am particularly immersed and interested in: Buddhist Meditation, Nonviolent Communication developed by Marshall Rosenberg and Somatic Experiencing develop by Peter Levine that deals with the nervous system’s role in healing trauma. I am only as far as Chapter 3 in Sofer’s book and already I am drawn to his techniques for engaging in life more fully and calmly. This section is called The Power of Pace: Pausing.
I’m a child of TV advertising. Jingles and taglines always stick with me. The Pause That Refreshes is from a Coca-Cola ad I remember from childhood. It immediately popped into my head when I read the section heading and I couldn’t resist using it for this title about the benefits of taking a pause—not for a sip of soda but to regain your presence. Taking a pause is a very pragmatic and useful approach for many things in life.
In Sofer’s book, much of the focus is on regaining your presence in a given moment, particularly while you are experiencing the normal fluctuations of your body’s nervous system during conversations and everyday encounters. Just as meditation is simple and yet not easy, taking a pause sounds simple but might not be easy to do in the moment. The key is to practice pausing to bring your body back to a calm and non-reactive state so that you are more aware of your own voice and the voice of others.
I have been trying this technique just now while I am writing. It is very interesting that while my head is so engaged in creating the words that flow from my fingertips into the computer, I lose awareness of myself. It is as if I go unconscious about my posture in the chair, my breathing is less regulated and I am excited and somewhat uneasy. Now obviously I am not unconscious because I am thinking and writing, but I am less than fully present. My focus goes to the words and the keyboard. I am not body aware. So as practice, as I write these words I am trying to breathe evenly and look around me to ground myself as to where I am in the room (a somatic experiencing technique). I feel calmer and it works for a second and then my presence is gone again. So I take another pause. Yes, practice is needed.
If you think that is hard, now try being present while having a conversation with someone else. That is a wonderful way to practice using pauses to bring yourself back to present calmness. As an east coast fast speaker I have been working for years to try and slow down my rate of speech—sometimes with success, other times not so much. Taking a pause can feel awkward when you are rushing to get your thoughts out. And that’s the problem: rushing. Pausing is incredibly helpful for becoming more present so that you speak more thoughtfully and kindly. What is working against you is that the nervous system often is activated while having a conversation, even if it isn’t a difficult conversation. Whether you are introverted or extroverted, the mere prospect of saying something may be enough to activate your sympathetic system (fight, flight or freeze response). So by practicing pauses, you can slow your physical state down to become more present and available to your own thoughts as well as the words from the other person.
Sofer gives some very practical methods for creating pauses during conversations. He suggests simple sentences, like, ”Let me think about that a moment” or “I’m not sure, Let me think about that.” Even saying, “Hmm” while you gather your thoughts can slow down the pace of a conversation to allow yourself to reset and regroup. Of course you can always excuse yourself to go to the bathroom or create some other deliberate pause. However, you need a certain amount of presence to be aware that you need to pause, so once again practice is the key. And like anything else you are working on in your life, don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t go as you hoped. Creating greater awareness of your experience of life is something to celebrate not berate. Be grateful that you are trying to be more present throughout the day. With practice the pause that refreshes will become more natural to you.