The Art of the Pause

The Art of the Pause

2.5 minute read

In every workshop it was the same:  Some could incorporate the skills immediately. Some could not, no matter how hard they tried.   Then, weeks after the class, I’d get an email like this:  “OMG, Liz – it WORKED!  I paused and then I (insert skill here) and it totally WORKED.”  Which lead to the question I’ve been asking myself ever since:  Was it the skill or the pause that made the difference?

Until recently, I thought it was the pause. 

I wasn’t good at pausing.  I liked going fast and having rapid-fire conversations.  It was fun.   Except for the times when I could see a response die on someone’s lips, and by the time I’d reined myself in, the moment had passed.  Or the times I said yes when I wanted to say no and was left with an obligation I dreaded.  Or the times I got overwhelmed with what I’d taken on, and couldn’t pause long enough to realize I could ask for help.  Those were the opposite of fun.

When it first became safe in 2020 to get together with friends, we sat together in silence, spoke slowly, and felt our way with each other.  Our time together felt precious to me, vulnerable and rich with meaning.  Gone was the need to fill silences with chatter, however strained or inane.  We paused, then slowly talked about what was underneath, how we were, what we were feeling, which to a person was vulnerable.

I’m allergic to vulnerable.  Deeply allergic.  Epi-pen allergic. I can do surface vulnerable, but there is a vault with a thick steel door even I don’t open. Covid was a master class in vulnerability, and I did not like the homework. I did it anyway:  Embracing the pause instead of my usual speedy responses, and withstanding the waves of vulnerability that resulted.   I was able to admit I didn’t know how, because no one knew how.  I could accept the inevitable mistakes and feeling of powerlessness because we were all experiencing that.

I think vulnerability gives the pause its power.  That it’s not the pause that makes the difference, but the vulnerability that precedes it. The pause happens naturally when you are comfortable not knowing, not being in charge, willing to be wrong and doing it anyway.

When the toll of not knowing started coming out of my hide, I paused and asked for help.  It choked me at first, but slowly – very slowly – it’s getting easier to ask for and to receive help.   I started seeing how my refusal to be helped confused people who were freely offering or who wanted to.  Now I’m catching myself when I’m about to spend countless hours trying to figure out something I could simply ask for help with.

Vulnerability (achoo!) and the pause make it possible to say no.  Recently someone I don’t enjoy working with proposed working together again.   I was about to type “Sure, we can talk” I paused and took the time to ask myself “What do Iwant?”  The answer was clear and immediate:  Not this.  The polite “no, Thank you” email practically wrote itself.  A few days later, I was given an opportunity that wasn’t right for me, and my automatic response was “why not help out?” I paused and asked myself “what do I want?”  “Not this” was again the answer.

I thought it opening the vault would be the end of me, but it’s feeling more like the beginning. I hope you’ll take a moment to pause and ask yourself:  “what do I want?”


OPEN FOCUS FRIDAY meets weekly at noon, Pacific Time.  Drop in anytime, pay as you go or buy a package at a discount. Details and a sign-up are here.  Open Focus is a simple practice you can do anywhere that helps you stay relaxed, open and connected, even in the midst of stress. Open Focus enables the pause.

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