Somewhere in the mountains of Virginia, I sat in the back of a whale-sized Volkswagen bus, dangling my feet over the edge. My brothers scrambled to join me, their pants caked in dirt. Mom and Dad rifled through a metallic blue cooler, producing carafes of freshly pressed apple juice and boxes of gingery cookies. I remember thinking it was magical — an “Alice in Wonderland” kind of magical.
As we tucked into plastic cups of juice and nibbled our cookies, the world around grew quiet. Our eyes tracked across the landscape — from the emerald, majestic evergreens, draped in snow, to the distant peaks, jutting aggressively into cerulean blue.
I took a deep breath, and smiled.
Moments like these are few and far between in adulthood, though I remember several from my childhood. None was intentional; they appeared organically with the right mixture of environmental factors. A chance to stop, breathe, observe, enjoy. On the other side of these protracted moments, smiles lingered, fears abated, and life was easier to relish.
I’ve been thinking a great deal about these “moments of pause” in recent days, owing largely to my recovery from elbow surgery. Recovery, by its nature, requires slowing down — giving the body, the mind, the soul a chance to mend. But we (yes, I’m speaking for all of us) are not good at slowing down.
There’s plenty of evidence in my daily life, and I know I’m not alone. I rush to complete tasks at work. I scramble to figure out my next career steps. I press myself into relationships of all sorts. Heck, my casual “Sunday in the park” strolls would make a fast-walking New Yorker proud.
Sticking to the theme, I impatiently urge my body to heal faster so I can get back to “living.” Or, more appropriately, “hurrying.”
As I reflect on my life without impedance, without a stop sign, it can be summed up quite accurately as a race. It’s a cultural, societal thing. We need to move faster, get to the next thing, climb higher. More, more, more. All at breakneck speed, if you please.
Recognizing this frenzy, I played an experimental mind game with myself this morning: “What would happen — in life’s many daily scenarios — if I stopped, just for a second? If I slowed my pace to half its usual speed?”
Here’s what I uncovered:
My persistent anxiety, a result of confidence breaches, hypochondria, and fear about the future, would be pressed to stop and simply “be.” Instead of thinking about the next thing in order to avoid it, I would have to sit with that anxiety. To understand it. And that would give me an opportunity to dismantle its shoddily-constructed foundation. Because, as I have glimpsed in a few lucid moments, my anxiety is a game of hypotheticals. I don’t ask “How am I doing in this moment?” I ask, “What is coming to get me next?” This, invariably, keeps me running.
My work stress — hinging on fear of failure or disappointment — would likely take a back seat to moments of gratitude and celebration. “I don’t think I can do this” would become “Look at what I’ve done and where I am.” The mere act of pausing would balance negative with positive.
My persistent fear of being out-of-shape and, resultantly, undesirable would be reframed as a question of holistic health. “Did I work out today?” would transform into “How do I feel today?”
I could keep going, but you get the idea. And the theme that underscores all of this? As we run, jumping quickly to the next thing to check a box, escape disaster (or so we think), or get ahead, we miss the joys of the moment. Just as the apple juice and cookies vignette, relished in the mountains, moments of pause force us to take serious stock — inclusive of the positive and the negative. The joys and accomplishments of our life come into focus. And yes, there are fears and anxieties still lurking. But they are seen for what they are — so often fabrications that fall apart when examined. And even those that reasonably remain are balanced with our happy truths: We have done much, and each moment is greater than the sum of its parts.
I’m working on pausing my life more. Not rushing from task to task, or training myself to run away from the present. To sit in it. Soak in it. Appreciate it, for all its quirks and foibles. And yes, to appreciate me and what I have done, big and small — because the present moment would not be what it is where I not in the world.
As this training becomes habit, I know that my mind will also stop racing. My heart will slow. My fears will become friendly. And my future will stop being the thing I never reach but always run toward. It will be more joyful moments of pause when I can celebrate my complex, ridiculous, beautiful life.