Not long ago, in early August, I was wandering around Costco, looking to find water balloons they had carried only weeks before. It was still hot and there were a few good pool parties on the horizon that would have welcomed a water balloon fight. I did not find water balloons, but I was mildly dismayed to find jack o’lanterns and the beginnings of Halloween decorations.
Last year I had a similar experience at Halloween. The air was cool, the trees draped in gorgeous full colors of the season, and walking into a drug store I saw something I wish I had taken a picture of: two decorations standing side by side for your purchasing pleasure–a skeletal creepy clown, pivoting at the waist, robotically turning back and forth, and at the same size, a happy, rotund, laughing… Santa Claus (!). All decked out in red velvet and trailing a bag of toys behind him.
You see where I’m going with this.
It occurs to me that we don’t take any time at all to enjoy the end of summer, or to fully enjoy one holiday without racing, head first, almost tripping over ourselves, to get to the next one.
It makes me want to take a pause. “Pause” is a verb that embodies inaction. When watching a movie at home, it means that an image is frozen in still frame, figures suspended, facial expressions frozen. When listening to music, it means silence. In life, it is a moment of quiet, rest, or contemplation. “Let’s pause here to think about it.”
The thing is, that our lives aren’t a movie or a song. And we don’t usually take an organic moment to pause, even when it is what the universe is inviting us to do. But I really think that being still is the start of all transformation. That sitting in the middle of the desert with no compass and no map, while not always comfortable, is exactly where we sometimes need to be.
I often speak with patients who, upon diagnosis, keep moving. They never stop. They keep working and working out and meeting the innumerable obligations they have committed to before this cancer business started.
Sometimes the not stopping is less literal. It is emotional. A person might not stop to ask themselves how this all feels. They may not stop and check in with their hearts, which are getting tossed about and bruised, sometimes broken. They may never ask themselves whether they feel afraid or lucky or mad or sad.
For people living with cancer, with diminished energy or decreased motivation, it can be a challenge to be “paused”. To not have the power to press “Play” as they had in the past, in a pre-illness version of themselves. I often speak to patients about this very feeling. It is as if they are stopped in a still frame of immobility. It doesn’t feel natural or good. It feels like a heavy hand holding them back, not a welcome moment of slowed activity or silence.
The thing is, illness or no, we are meant to stop and pause on occasion.
Our “survival brain” tells us that when we are in new terrain, we need to hustle. We need to alleviate our own discomfort, to make the unfamiliar familiar, to gain a sense of mastery over all of the newness, all of the challenges, and to keep moving ahead. Head down, trudging forward, we can’t see what we’re trudging through. We can’t connect or make meaning or acknowledge our own sense of unease. We are in a new and uncharted land, feeling all of the openness of our past wounds that have not yet healed. We are turtles without our shells. We are vulnerable.
But that place of vulnerability is the exact place where a pause has the most meaning. Sometimes, like a ride we need to get off of, we consciously acknowledge the need for space and quiet. For peace. But I think more often, we don’t see it coming. We think we can handle it. We can handle everything, right? And that’s when it happens. That’s when the universe makes us stop. Presses the pause button for us. The universe unplugs the ride, makes you get off, and demands some quiet and a good dose of self-compassion.
I was talking to a friend recently, and after sharing with her a few of the things going on in my morning and my life at large, she said, “You are supposed to stop right now. You are meant to slow down. This is every force in your life asking you to take a break. To stop moving.” That’s when I realized it. I need to pause.
I often take 10-15 minutes for myself in the morning. I meditate. I play music. Usually, that’s enough to keep me on track. But what I think the universe is telling me lately is that I maybe need more than 10 minutes. It is telling me to stop. Stop the noise, stop the moving, stop everything. Just stop. And when the universe tells us to stop, I think we should listen.
In this case, I don’t have a choice.
The fact is, that things are changing all the time. We are changing all the time. And we can race through each of these phases and transitions for a long time. But at some point, we need to press “pause”. Sometimes, this pause is decided for us, but we can also decide for ourselves. We can make the choice to listen. To be kind to ourselves, to take some time, and get a sense of our new terrain. We can choose to be present, to fully experience whatever our lives are giving us. We can have water balloon fights in the heat of September and leave the Halloween decorations up until we’re ready for the turkeys, or whatever your next holiday may be.