I recently heard an interview on NPR with the film director and documentarian Werner Herzog whose newest film “Into the Abyss” focuses on the ripple effects of criminal acts on both the perpetrators and victims of murder.
In the interview, Herzog says that when you ask inmates who have been sentenced to life or who are on death row about their life’s regrets and their conclusions as to – “how should we conduct our lives? How should we raise our children?” the remarkably similar thread you hear from them is how important small family values are, how much family matters. They talk about how important it is that we listen to our children, attend to them and be present for them and that this is what matters in the end. Many of them have learned from what they didn’t have in their own upbringings or from the poor choices they’ve made as parents.
The convicted are teaching us that beyond all the isolation one must feel in jail, it is also a place that provides a great deal of distance from one’s life- from which observation, reflection and pausing can take place. Inmates have an imposed pause. We don’t. So it takes some intention, discipline and motivation to create this space for ourselves in our own lives.
You’ve probably heard various quotes stating that dying isn’t as difficult if you have lived well. We are less likely to be so regretful or fearful of letting go at the end of our lives if we feel we’ve embraced them while living. But what’s a well-lived life? That’s what we each have to define for ourselves. Is it- “I never wasted a moment getting my “ to- do” list done? “ “ My house was always spotless!” “I had apps working for me as I was diapering you!” etc.. Is this what we’ll be proud of (well maybe partially- that we were efficient) or will it matter most that we were really present and attentive in our shared family moments, in the “beingness” of life and in the special time we gave to others, ourselves, our children. Those moments when we tended to our own inner lives, reflected on what our hearts yearned for and expressed those deep buried feelings we really wanted to share with our parents, our friends, our partners?
What matters most? Being or Doing?
It’s so easy to get caught up in the day to day chores, errands and tasks of the day – because there ARE so many of them to do- and to lose sight of what really matters and what it’s all for. You’ve heard this in many forms,,many times but it’s probably worth repeating since life is soooo busy these days and it seems to be getting more and more so in our technical age. What will WE look back upon later? What will we remember? We’ll remember most what we felt, who we loved, who we laughed with and whether we embraced our lives.
I spoke to a customer service rep at Verizon the other day and asked him if he could help me justify spending more money on a higher tech phone since I really don’t feel I need a droid etc.. but then I wondered what I might be be missing out on by not having one … What am I missing out on!? (this is a common question humans ponder!)
He gave me the most compelling and persuasive sales pitch – I can’t remember the exact details as to which “apps” he felt I needed but it was something like“You NEED one of these phones! Do you know how much precious time you’re wasting when you could have this phone with all these apps working for your business!? … you could be standing on line at the post office and if you have this app or (that app) you can be doing all these things you might normally have to spend time doing later when you get home….” Such as? “well you could be setting your DVR to record shows instead of waiting to get home to do it!” Hmmm… he had a point. I was feeling that part of me saying “oh my gosh I AM wasting time! How unproductive!”
Here’s my more dramatic version of my self talk: “STOP WASTING TIME DOING NOTHING! Don’t waste a second!!”. Then another (calmer part.. the meditator!) part kicked in saying “ as if pausing to breathe while waiting on line (an actual LINE.. not ONLINE!) at the post office is a total time waster?!” ! Hmmm… so which loss would I rather tolerate? Which moment is better spent?! Even this question takes me out of the present!
A lost moment. I get the Verizon reps point. It IS a lost moment- but it goes both ways! I can set my app to work for me so that I can save time scheduling or billing clients, but maybe using this app or worrying about how else this moment could work for me – is eating up time I could use to pause.. breathe and center myself in the midst of a hectic day or bring calmness with me into the next moment or help me reflect on my appreciation or acknowledgement of the person serving me at the post office (which as we know can be VERY challenging at that setting!). Maybe the pause provides me the space to reflect on an exchange I just had with someone on the phone (like the Verizon rep) and notice what I feel or just REST (is that a time waster!?)
What happened to spaces?!
I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer to have a moment to recall that I am a human being and not a human machine. I still like having a down moment to settle my breath and my body even if it means I’m losing a few money- earning minutes. I don’t feel obsessed by the idea of time being money. Nor do I feel I’m the only power behind every single dollar that comes into my bank account. I believe I am also supported by unseen forces and benevolence coming my way…that the universe supports me too and that if I breathe- I respond better to those around me in my world.and THAT matters to me. It scares me to think that breathing and pausing have become obsolete time wasters!
In a recent New York Times article, writer Jane Brody talks about her resolve following her mother’s early death, to make her life matter and to “die without regrets”. Her article http://nyti.ms/womRuU reports on a new book “ 30 lessons for living” which is based upon interviews with 1000 older adults who were asked to reflect upon what really matters.
Before I went to Social Work school I worked in a nursing home where I counseled some of the residents there. The literature about counseling the elderly focuses on the theme of “life review” because at that point in your life you’re looking more backwards than forwards. I remember hearing people talk about their regrets and the longings they had for not doing certain things that mostly related to loving others and expressing love to them or resolving longstanding interpersonal pains. I remember thinking then- I hope I can learn to stay present enough in my life to enjoy it and not get to a point where I’m reviewing my life and regretting it saying “ I wish I’d paused more to think about what mattered…”
I’m sure most of you already do take that pause and look at your family, your patterns, your habits, your worries from a distance. But, when we’re stopped at the traffic light or that space comes up while we’re with our friends and we grab our blackberries or check email- there are choices we have then about how to spend those moments – awake or on automatic? Allowing the space to come foreground or filling it?
We take vacations in an attempt to do this, but then sometimes find we can’t always slow down even there, because we have to see every site and get it all in, or that it’s too tall of an order to come back and try to bring our vacation mindset back to our lives. We need to pause regularly throughout the day so it becomes a part of our daily practice and it doesn’t just get all crammed in for “when I go on vacation”,because when you’ve stored up all your pausing time for your trip- at that point you’re probably at the end of your rope and need a whole lot more than just a pause to address your stress levels.
Some ways people have found success in pausing is with the help of therapy, yoga, breathwork, even meditating for 5 minutes before bed, taking stock of the moment you’re in- for example noticing ” here I am playing this game with my child.. breathing.. noticing him and how he interacts..how it is to have this time together and whatever else you notice..” or by just taking walks. These are all ways of allowing your mind to clear so that there’s SPACE for the universe to communicate with you- for you to hear what’s referred to as the “whispers of your soul” … or the collective unconsciousness we all tap into when we are still enough to hear it.
People often struggle in making decisions or finding their intuition and knowing what they really want. This knowing is revealed in that space. There actually IS a flow of information that you can tap into if you quiet yourself. Fill up every moment of that space and you won’t hear much except your mind chattering away (trust me. I know from my experience as a person!)
This pausing and creating distance is also something that is our ticket out of suffering. “Having no one (meaning- no reflective part of yourself) to receive and reject feelings of pain and replace them with feelings of love causes all of our distress…The SELF you have taken out of the learning loop is the Self of love… (From a lovely Christian book entitled “A course in love”). Meaning, it’s the observing self that we need to allow- to bring us back to our essence.
When we are standing so close with our noses pressed to the glass wall of the fish tank- we have a narrow perspective of the world inside it and lose perspective. We can’t observe our thoughts from this place and see their silliness and their often obsessive nature or notice how we drive ourselves to exhaustion. When we pause and pull back a bit- we can see what’s really going on. Maybe that job loss was meant to help us grow another part of ourselves and wasn’t necessarily a punishment or a failure on our part. Maybe we’re upset about a choice we just made to say something to someone without feeling ourselves first.
We need to get in touch with the “apparatus”… the part of us that SEES all, which is not the part that says “I see that I am being angry with myself…” it’s even greater than THAT part! .. it’s the part that sees the part that sees the anger at the self (no this is not a typo!). FROM this place we can sort out which thoughts and feelings are helpful to us and which ones we’d be best to not believe/ be brainwashed by anymore…and then we can break through to our higher selves. Then we can hear the broadcasts that are playing on the other channels when the static is cleared.
So right now – just pause and follow me in this somatic exercise. Notice the feeling of your feet resting on the floor and how the floor is supporting you and holding you up or notice that you rarely even remember you HAVE feet and can’t even feel them right now… Notice whatever you notice and see if you can let that be. Maybe you’ll notice how little you allow the floor to support you and that you hold yourself up most of the time. The possibilities are endless. Then you may notice your mind saying “I have things to do..! I don’t have time for this..” Yeah. You do! And those are “just thoughts” that you don’t have to buy into, that you can send down the river for just this moment. Notice the impact of these words you’re reading and how they land on you- how deeply or how shallowly. Take a minute to feel the temperature in the room, to notice the stillness of the night when night falls and to feel the impact your day has had on you. Bring your being into your doing…Actually, drop your doing and as my brother says, “rest in the great vastness of your being…” Beyond your thoughts.
Pausing is where thinking can rest and being comes into foreground. You are MUCH more than your thoughts. Cultivate this process and return to yourself even for just a moment.
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