Exercise: Practice Pausing (and Noticing)
Walk around the block with an intention simply to notice what is happening. What do you see? What smells are you aware of? What are the physical sensations you experience as you walk? What sounds do you notice?
An important part of this exercise is to let things come to your awareness and simply notice them. For example, how do you experience your body as you are walking? You may bring your attention to the sensations in your feet as they meet the ground. You may be aware of sensation of the breeze as it touches your face, moves your hair, or rustles your clothes.
You might notice what comes to you visually. Take in all the sights, if possible, without jumping to evaluate or judge them. Simply allow what you see to come, and go. You may notice details of a place that is familiar to you that you never noticed before. You may be aware of activity, movement. Take it in. Let it go.
When you find yourself distracted from what is happening around you, pause and bring yourself back to the sights.
Notice the smells on the street – car exhaust, food from store fronts, garbage, fresh air. Let the smells drift through your awareness. Notice how you respond to the smells – what smells you like, don't like. Let the smells come to you. Let them go.
When you find yourself lost in thought, pause and bring yourself back.
Notice the sounds as you walk – birds, car radios, people sounds, engines, your feet as they meet the pavement. Notice if you enjoy the sound of a bird, or constrict to the blare of a siren. Let the sounds come and let them go.
When you find yourself thinking about what you have to do later in the day, pause and bring yourself back to noticing.
Come back, again and again, to the sights, sounds, smells, and physical sensations of the block.
Pausing is the most important tool you have for bringing yourself back to what is happening in the present.
If you are like many of us, this relatively non-emotionally laden exercise can be challenging. Our thoughts pull us from what is right here. We might feel impatient that there is nothing 'to do' other than be present and notice. Imagine, then, how much more challenging it is to stay present when we are invested in something. The practice of pausing and noticing gets even more interesting when our buttons are pushed or when we really want something to work out in a particular way.
Pausing exercises build the capacity to respond flexibly to what is happening rather than becoming reactive. Practicing pausing in all situations helps us to develop the most freedom and flexibility in our thinking, decision-making, and acting. Pausing helps us to have clearer thinking, make better choices, and be more effective actors in our lives.