Wk7, Day1: Pausing Practice

Last night, I listened to a recent audio talk by Tara Brach, “The Sacred Pause.” She discussed pausing to become present throughout the day. In the talk, she describes a friend who tried it and recognized some interesting habits he hadn’t been aware of.

Lately, I’ve been looking for an enhancement to my daily practice that will help me realign midday before charging into the afternoon. One month into this 12-week experiment, I was chewing on the idea to add 30 minutes midday, after lunch. However, Tara’s pausing idea is more intriguing, as it inserts the practice throughout the day’s regular activities (“off the cushion” practice), rather than setting aside another formal sit.

I’m calling it Pausing Practice: I pause after finishing one thing, before beginning another.

The first effect of Pausing Practice has been to interrupt multi-tasking. If only because it was such a pain to stop and pause every minute because that’s how often something new grabbed my attention when I was online and I shifted midway from what I was doing to what I was moving on to do.

I never realized I did this. After all, I am well aware there is no such thing as multi-tasking (doing more than one activity at a time that requires conscious, executive functioning to complete). The brain is not capable of this under most circumstances.

We CAN do rote tasks (those that rely on procedural (implicit, unconscious) memory) simultaneously with explicit tasks (those that require our conscious attention). Buttering a piece of bread (rote) while talking on the phone (explicit), for example. Procedural memory tasks the cerebellum while the conversation uses other lobes. Therefore the conversation requires your attention, the hands do not.

However, most of what we call multi-tasking is actually a time-consuming and energy-expending shift from one executive function to another. The conscious effort you put into one task (i.e., typing this blog post) has to be paused in order for the next conscious function to begin. Then the mind must adjust to the new task (i.e., glancing up quickly to scan the incoming email alert). Each shift requires inhibiting the current action and initiating the new one. This drains energy and is an inefficient time suck.

Inserting a true pause revealed just how often I mindlessly engage in these shifts. What a revelation, as clearly I know better!

I therefore decided to stop fake-multitasking. Instead, Pausing Practice alerted me of an impending shift, at which point I decided to pause and notice what was arising, then to recommit to the activity I was about to interrupt. I would then return to the task.

Sounds like a lot of time ‘wasted’ in Pausing Practice—how did I get anything done? The funny thing is, as you may have predicted, I got just as much done as usual. The major shifts were (a) I became aware of how often I interrupt one task to start another, (b) I felt more in charge of my day, more intentional with each activity, and (c) I was not drained at the end of the day!

What would it be like to spend even an hour of your day in Pausing Practice?

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