Photo courtesy of Liz Gill

Where can you pause?

For me, it started in the fall. I had just dropped my kids off at school. I was walking out of the playground, and I had to stop. The clouds were spectacular that chilly fall morning – streaking across the sky in intricate patterns, moving and changing quickly with the wind. I was so struck with their beauty, I sat down on the wall outside the school and watched for a few minutes and observed the patterns change.

Pausing and watching, I felt my shoulders drop a half an inch. I realized I had been holding them up near my ears. I had pushed through the doings of the morning – getting myself and kids fed, clothed, and out the door. As I stopped and watched the clouds, I felt a moment of peace. A pause from the headlong momentum of the morning. A breath. A touching in of how I was feeling, just for a few moments.

The next day as I again dropped off the kids and walked out of the playground, I looked up, right at the spot where I had noticed the clouds the day before. That day, the clouds hung low, some splattering of raindrops hit my face, and I felt the bite of cold air on my skin. Many of the parents rushed past me, their coats pulled in tight around their necks. I slowed down and noticed that it didn’t feel so cold when I relaxed. I noticed how the chill made me feel alive.

Months later, I am still stopping and watching the clouds after I drop off the kids. It has become a daily reminder to pause. I wave at my son as he runs out of my reach. I kiss my daughter goodbye, watch her bright hair bounce in through the doors, and then I turn and linger on my walk out. I slow down. It has become a walking meditation for me.  It may seem small, but it is one of my favorite moments of the day.

Some mornings, I notice I’m anxious. Then I notice how that makes me a little less present to what’s around me. I rarely notice that I am automatically relaxed, peaceful, content. When I am running on autopilot, I am hurried: anticipating: planning: figuring out: already on to the next thing. If I have a meeting or a class, I notice the internal rush a bit more – the unconscious hurry, even if I have plenty of time.

Slowing down allows me to notice how I am feeling inside.

But now the pause is habitual. I feel like this morning ritual has become a touchpoint, and a kindness to myself. I feel this conscious pause is possible because of the dedication to my practice of yoga and meditation. All the minutes and hours that I have practiced being present has allowed me to awaken to this small thing. It has reminded me that even in those seemingly throwaway moments – the 2-minute walk between the school and my car – there is the possibility for mindfulness. The possibility is always there, but it generally doesn’t show up on its own.

When we take the time to formally practice slowing down and being present, we develop the muscle to find presence in the ordinary moments–and eventually in the more challenging moments of life. These two minutes have inadvertently become a part of my daily meditation practice. This watching-clouds-meditation is a reminder to be kind to myself, to slow down, to notice my breath and how I’m feeling.

I invite you to look for those moments where you can pause, those ordinary moments in your day that could become a part of your informal mindfulness practice. And if you forget, no problem, you can start over again tomorrow. We can always begin again. It’s another opportunity to practice being kind, rather than berating ourselves for not measuring up.

Remember that your formal time for practice (a yoga class, a set aside time for a daily meditation practice) only supports you in developing the capacity to be present in the ordinary moments. Let me know where you find those moments of pausing, those moments of kindness and awareness.

I am trying to provide more offerings for us to pause and practice kindness in community. Please join me and guest mindfulness teacher Ashley Dahl for a Free Community Practice and Potluck on Friday, March 31st at the UP studio. I am excited to offer this time for practice together and simply enjoying social time in community with students and teachers. I anticipate this will fill up! Reserve your spot here.

In April, Ashley and I will be co-leading an afternoon mindfulness and yoga workshop about Awakening Kindness within ourselves. Find out more here.

With Metta (lovingkindness),

Erin