Most of us work way too hard to achieve goals that are not aligned with who we really are. We are driven by the energy of our corporations or our bosses. We are driven by the energy of educational systems that are behind in giving us what we really need. We are driven by the energy of other people we interact with at a coffee shop or who we call our friends. We are driven by the energy of the people we date.
And yet, somehow, we assume that we are always right on track and that, if there is any trouble, it is someone else’s fault. Or the system’s fault. Or the barista at Starbucks who got the order wrong. Or the jerk who ghosted us. We vent with our friends and talk about what is wrong with other people, our job, or our political system. Everyday we incubate and train our minds to be swept away with not only our chatter but the chatter of the rest of the world.
We very rarely, unless we have gone through the process of training our mind and body, connect these moments of negative thinking with a sign that we actually need to slow down and perhaps stop what we are doing. Or we should be spending more time alone in stillness to clear other people’s thoughts out of our mind. This is what meditation is really about and why it is so needed in modern day Western culture.
Today, millions of people are interested in meditation as a way to help combat anxiety and stress. I think it is wonderful that there is not a wider acceptance of such ancient practices and that our scientific community has made it easier for even the most skeptical person to give meditation a try. However, what we don’t always discuss is the real purpose of meditation. It is not just about feeling better, it is about learning to return to who you really are in moments of stress.
A state of anxiety is not who we are. A state of anxiety is a symptom that we need to pause to return to who we really are and often the only way to get there is with a little stillness and a moment alone.
Go within every day and find the inner strength so that the world will not blow your candle out. -Katherine Dunham
Our Anxiety and Depression Epidemic
Why have we had such a huge increase in anxiety over the years? The truth is our anxiety is warranted. We have been facing economic difficulties that make leaving home more challenging for young adults. We have been fortunate enough to live in a time where we can really choose the life we would like to live but this exploratory process can lead to anxiety for those of us we are more ambitious and perfectionistic. We are burdened with student loan debt and poor career prospects that have created financial uncertainty. Yet, the most profound reason for our suffering is a simple lack of education. We do not teach the tools to manage our body or our mind to children. I’m sure most of us have had to take a serious time out due to a health crisis, a major breakup, or a career disaster to hit the pause button to stop long enough to take a look at what is happening on the inside.
If our education system focused more on teaching the tools of wellness as an important part of success (especially success for future entrepreneurs) I’m sure more of us would weather the inevitable ups and downs of adulthood with a little more grace. The truth is, if we wait until our thirties or beyond to learn this lesson, we’ve missed a TON of opportunities for practice. The training process, is therefore, that much harder.
How to Recognize When it is Time to Pause
It is time to pause the minute you find yourself venting for more than a few minutes, more frustrated or angry than normal, or find yourself being highly disrespectful to others. These are not our natural states and are often the consequences of not taking care of our own well-being AND being surrounded by other who also do not take care of their well being.
It is also time to pause when you feel like you are pushing forward on an agenda in such a way that it feels like an uphill battle. The resistance from others is a sign that something is out of alignment and a pause may help you figure out what it is.
Why Pausing Saves Time and Money
Most people state they cannot commit to a meditation practice, yoga, the gym or a new healthcare regime due to time constraints or the cost associated with going to classes. It is entirely understandable that trying something new would feel like a huge sacrifice of your resources. Yet, there is a reason why some of most successful people have some kind of regular self-care routine.
“When we get too caught up in the busyness of the world, we lose connection with one another — and ourselves.” — Jack Kornfield
If the people we look up to due to their business acumen and success find the 20 minutes a day to dedicate to pausing and turning inward — why do we constantly run around mindlessly thinking we are doing big, important things with our life? Isn’t success really about working less and living more? Filling up time just to fill up time reflects an internal emptiness that needs to be addressed. Meditation can help you figure out what is really going on.
Training your mind and your body to hit the pause button when the negativity strikes will help you listen to the wisdom within. It will help you make the career decisions you need to make. It will help you make the relationship decisions you need to make from a place of kindness. It will help you survive our election season without feeling like the world is falling apart! Meditation, yoga or any other physical activity that is done with the intention of tuning back into yourself is worth the investment of both time and money for your future.
How to Get Started
Do you walk every day? Do you brush your teeth? Do you eat your meals? All you need to do is put your phone away, take off your headphones and complete these tasks purely focused on that task. Mindful meditation does not have to be about sitting on a cushion. It can be about making the choice to do the things you already do without the distraction of technology or putting the needs of others ahead of your need to hit the pause button.
Do you feel like you have trouble sitting still? Meditation can happen while participating in a sport or even dancing. There has been research done comparing mindfulness based meditation with Argentine tango dancing showing that both can lead to similar health benefits including decreased stress and depression levels.
Whatever it is that you choose, the consistency is more important than the amount of time involved. It may be easier to commit to one minute per day of putting your phone away while walking than it would be to commit to going to an actual mediation class everyday. When we are trying to form a new habit, we need to set ourselves up for success and make it easy.
Why Journaling After Pausing Solves your Problems
Many people swear by writing as a way to work through difficult situations. It is a creative outlet and it can help move negative energy out of your system. However, when we are stressed or confused about next steps, taking the pause can open up solutions were were unable to see before. It is wise to capture your intuition on paper or through a voice note. You never know where these little nuggets of insight will lead you over time but it will likely help you get some clarity on the things that have been stressing you.
Stillness Needs Bravery and Brilliance Needs a Pause
It is not easy in our modern world to actively choose to pause and take the time for ourself. It is a brave decision to live your life in this way. Yet, if you are really committed to your success and bringing your visions for a better future to life, your brilliance — the brilliance the world needs from you — will only be accessed in those moments of clarity. It is worth being brave enough to take the pause and slow down.
“Great minds have great purposes, others have wishes. Little minds are tamed and subdued by misfortune; but great minds rise above them.” – Washington Irving
Dr. Jennifer B. Rhodes is a licensed psychologist, relationship expert and the forthcoming author of Toxic Insecurity: Our Search for Authentic Love. You can connect with her on Twitter and Instagram @jenniferbrhodes.
A version of this post was previously published on Medium and is republished here with permission from the author.
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