The Power of a Pause

When Atal Behari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister of India, I always wondered what could be the reason behind the pauses he took while speaking. Sometimes I thought it was because of his old age, and sometimes people even made fun of him for this habit, but I was always amused by the wisdom of his words – not just his political speeches, but his writings and poems in particular. If we take a pause and think for a moment, we can all recall such people who take longer than usual while speaking or answering questions. In today’s fast paced world, I believe such people can teach us some valuable lessons.

Our Quest for Survival

Human beings are hard-wired for survival, and that is the reason we are the most evolved species on the planet. Our brains constantly listen for signals from our senses (sight, sound, touch) and acts immediately if it senses any danger or threat to our physical well-being. Similarly, our mind always listens from external events, giving us a running commentary as life unfolds around us. When we are conversing, our mind tells us what to speak next or it makes a judgement about the speaker or the spoken. It is the mind’s job to make sure we don’t look bad (or stupid), and it decides (for us) what to do next to save us from (perceived) threats to our social well-being.

Our Ability to Intervene & Take a Pause

If there is one thing which separates us from other living beings, it is our ability to stop this cycle of action and reaction, and to take a pause before deciding how to respond. Most of the times, both action and reaction are simultaneous, with no pause between them. An example could be our spouse asking the same question every morning and we replying with the same response without even blinking. The same happens at work when we talk to our boss or our colleagues.

A small pause before we start to speak or answer can do wonders to a conversation. Most of the times when we are not talking, we are actually waiting to talk. Sometimes the person on the other side has a lot more to say but is hesitant and so he stopped. By taking a pause after he has stopped speaking, and maybe using words like hmm… uh.. ok.. but not jumping in with our views, we can let the other person complete whatever he has in his mind. We can even ask follow up questions like – “Do you have anything else to add?” before beginning to speak ourselves.

Simple and powerful words by Mark Twain

Simple and powerful words by Mark Twain

In my conversations where I have been aware to take a pause, I have noticed that speaking up after letting the other person finish leads to more fruitful conversations and both parties are left satisfied. This satisfaction is of being heard, and of being understood. What’s more strange is that sometimes I don’t even have to speak up, and the conversation automatically leads to where I wanted it to go by just listening. As people are listened to, they let their rigidity of stance soften and consider your view point even without your asking for it. Such is the power of taking a pause and listening.

Responsibility = Our Ability to Respond

We live in a world today where we want everyone to be responsible. We want our children, our political leaders, our colleagues, our managers, our neighbours to all be responsible. “Responsibility” is an over-used word in our media driven society, but I believe being responsible is first and foremost our ability to respond consciously. It can make a huge difference in our lives if we can train ourselves to take a pause often and act not from our mind’s fears and judgements, but from our values, priorities and goals.

Taking a pause will force us to think about what is really important to us, and it can have a profound impact on our work and lives. Pausing creates space for ourselves and others to express themselves fully. It creates positive energy instead of building tension and enables us to handle tough situations in a more mature way.

I want to end with a simple request – to take a pause and think about this article, rather than just believing the commentary your mind has provided you as you were reading it.

5 Simple Ways We Can Slow Down and Make Our Each Day Worthwhile and Enjoyable

We all live our days hurrying through life, and going after tasks and deadlines. In this mad rush called life, it is very easy to miss all those little pleasures which each day has to offer. In the rush to live, we sometimes forget to pause and actually live the present moment. If you are not clear on what I am trying to convey, think when was the last time you ate lunch without thinking about that call in the afternoon or the deadline you have to complete by the end of day. When was the last time you really cherished the meal you ate, and tasted every flavor it had to offer, or thought about how it was made?

We should never forget this quote

We should never forget this quote

Taking a pause in doing our so called mundane and day to day tasks and savoring each moment of our days can be truly magical. And we can savor not just food, but anything else too. It is wonderful, and it changes everything. Below are some simple ways we can make our days truly wonderful, and to fully enjoy the gift each moment has to offer –

1. Food – So the next time we eat, let us savor each bite before we move on to take the next bite. Let us slow the eating process down, and give some space to the activity of eating. Let us eat to cherish the beautiful activity eating is, and not for just fueling up for the next task at work.
2. Exercise – Whenever you walk, jog, or do some other form of exercise, enjoy it fully. Do not let exercise become a chore to do just for keeping healthy, or some task we have to get over with. Go for a quiet run (remove the earphones) amid nature and listen to the birds chirping, and the sounds of twigs and leaves as you run past them. Notice your breathing, notice how you get tired, notice when you slow down. Feel the feet as it touches the ground, and feel the wind as it blows past you. Doing this will make exercising more enjoyable, and you will get more out of it.
3. Daily Commute – We all spend a lot of time commuting to and from work daily. Normally we just wait for the traffic to clear so that we reach our destination as soon as possible. But for a change next time, sit quietly and observe the surroundings on your way. Observe the different people in their cars and bikes, observe the street hawkers and shopkeepers by the road side, observe the kids playing near the traffic junction, or just watch the traffic cops do their job. Cherish the road the way it is – full of potholes or an expressway, cherish the trees and buildings you pass by. By doing that, we are not wasting our time in commuting, but we are enriching our experience of those few hours you spend daily to and from work.
4. Weather – Normally our experience of weather is to pass judgement – “it is too cold”, or “this humidity will kill me”, or “why did it had to rain today” and so on… Weather is not something in our control, so obviously we will be surprised by some sudden weather change. But instead of cursing it if it gets in our day to day lives, we can try to slow down and enjoy what it has to offer. If it is humid, let get drenched in sweat and take a shower when we get back home. If it is raining, let’s feel the rain drops on our body as a child does. If it is cold, let’s enjoy the chill while it lasts. The same goes for spring, summer and fall. Let us enjoy the beauty each season has to offer, rather than trying to suit the weather to our comfort.

"Slow down and enjoy life. It's not only the scenery you miss by going to fast-you also miss the sense of where you are going and why."  --Eddie Cantor

“Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going to fast-you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.”
–Eddie Cantor

5. Writing – As with any other task, even writing gets enjoyable if we slow down and be with it fully. If we focus on our fingers as type (or write) words and sentences, and on the thoughts we are writing about, it becomes enjoyable. Notice how our thoughts turn into words and how lucky we are to be able to do so. Isn’t that realization enjoyable, and the experience something to be cherished!!

Stopping and enjoying every moment just the way it is, as I described above, is not easy and takes practice. You can do it right now – where ever you are and irrespective of what you are doing. When we slow down, we notice a lot of things we miss otherwise. These things are all very small and trivial, but enjoying them is what makes life worthwhile. Nothing can be as enjoyable as cherishing each moment as it comes, and whatever it brings with it.