I haven’t put together any real resolutions for this year, though they always tempt me. My fantasies of symbolic slate clearing (post-rain, new years, moving) is at odds with my aversion to goal setting, so here I sit, wobbling on as usual. I suppose this behavior is more Buddhist, even if I got there by defeat instead of acceptance.
If I did have resolutions for 2020, PAUSE MORE would be at the top of the list. Lots of folks talk about The Pause, but it caught my attention in Tara Brach’s book Radical Acceptance. She calls it The Sacred Pause; I prefer The Magical Pause, because sacred is just so … weighty. It’s pretty simple. In fact, it’s just what it sounds like. You just stop what you’re doing. You can do it for no particular reason, or to stop yourself from being dragged from moment to moment by habit. As she puts it,
When we pause, we don’t know what will happen next. But by disrupting our habitual behaviors, we open to the possibility of new and creative ways of responding to our wants and fears.
I need much more pausing in my life, and I probably need it most when in conversation and facing cravings, but I do now pause more frequently when engaging in written communication. I had two clear opportunities to practice the magical pause this week.
The first was in response to what I interpreted as an inappropriate reply to a group email at work, undermining me, negating my previous response, not answering the question at hand, and confusing the staff member who had started the communication. I started writing an email in response, then paused. I then mentally ticked off a list a questions:
- Why am I really writing this email? Is it to inform or to punish?
- Am I writing to make things better or just to prove my righteousness?
- Is this email in any way driven by ego?
Once I decided that the answers were
I rewrote the email, taking out some of the snottiness, but leaving the finger-wagging in place. Then I paused again and one more question came up:
- Is email the best way to do this?
I decided it wasn’t. I met with the guy the next day and sorted it out. The message of consistent communication with staff was important and needed to be agreed upon, but it turns out he hadn’t contradicted me because he didn’t see my response, and the section that I thought undermined me was more him taking responsibility for a mistake he had made. I also started our mini-meeting with a question, rather than an accusation or interrogation, allowing him to disabuse me of my illusions before I embarrassed myself by admitting I had them.
The other occasion was personal. I’ve received a less-than-pleasant accusation and snotty comment from a faraway friend recently, and my first impulse is to prove my innocence – that I don’t deserve this, etc. Magical pause activate! The same 3 questions came up, along with the recognition that this person seems to be in pain right now, and going after their minor offenses would probably hurt them much more than it helps me.
Would it help me at all? How does proving my righteousness really, truly help me anyway, ever? Is this all a big, individualistic lie I’ve bought into?
I think my big question before every single action I take in this life should be: would I be doing this if I didn’t have an ego?
Not that I would redirect in every instance, but it might help me be just a little bit kinder.