Taking a Month of Pause (a.k.a. Becoming a Person of Inaction)

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I have always prided myself on being a person of action.

A problem presents itself and bam! I’m on the attack.

I read articles, request books from the library, brainstorm lists of potential solutions. I talk and talk and talk some more, with friends and loved ones and friendly random people at Target, until I’m tired of hearing my own voice.

I take that pesky problem and bludgeon it until either a) I come up with a viable solution — triumph! or b) (more often) create new problems in my elaborate efforts to solve the old one.

A month ago, my problem-solving wheels were spinning faster than tires on an open stretch of freeway. I’d come to the realization that my attempt to establish a blog-based business had resulted in chronic stress and anxiety, and now I was in attack mode.

Within a couple days of deciding I was taking a blogging break, I’d emailed my former picture book writing group to let them know that I’d be coming back in a few weeks. Whew, I had a plan! (Because heaven forbid I just take a few weeks to sit with my decision and see how it felt.)

Problem solved, right? No, surely it couldn’t be that simple. I’d poked the problem with a stick, not ruthlessly wrestled it to the ground. So I kept attacking.

I investigated career certificate programs and jotted down people I should talk to about their jobs.

I came up with alternate child care scenarios and researched other types of writing.

I excitedly clicked on all the course ads that magically began populating my Facebook feed (because one of these years, I’m going to figure out how to set stricter controls on tracking cookies, but right now I let websites throw so many cookies in my direction that I’m basically a freaking bakery).

In short, I was still consumed by stress and anxiety, only now all that energy was directed toward potential new endeavors instead of the original one.

I was approaching my next move like a game of pinball, bouncing from one potential new path to the next, darting around so quickly I scarcely knew where to train my eyes.

Completely overwhelmed, a revolutionary idea struck: what if I just…stopped?

Instead of trying so hard to keep that options ball racing around from one thing to the next, what if I just let it slide right on past my flippers and disappear from sight? What if, instead, I walked away from the pinball game, left the arcade altogether, and plunked down at a table to enjoy some nachos from the concession stand?

Okay, okay, my analogy is falling apart, but retiring to the hypothetical concession stand for a breather is precisely what I did.

Of course this approach required a suitable name and structure — I’m stopping the chaos, not giving up on life, for Pete’s sake — so I christened it “the month of pause.”

During the month, I put every new idea in one of three categories (wait for it…will there be alliteration???):

Priorities: things I could do during the month without any need to wait; examples included going for walks, spending quality time with my family, having an evening cup of tea, and journaling.

Possibilities: things I could consider doing once I’d paused long enough to know what I truly wanted and needed; examples included resuming picture book writing, taking an improv class, and/or becoming involved in local environmental advocacy (and so, so many more — coming up with ideas has never been my problem).

Passes: things I decided aren’t a good fit for my life anytime soon; examples included all those certificate programs I’d been excited about, because I really want to soak up the toddler and preschool years with my last baby, and launching a new career doesn’t jive so well with that.

(Of COURSE there’s alliteration — again, I’m reevaluating here, not doing anything crazy like throwing out my favorite literary device.)

And now here I am, a month later. My month of pause was technically over yesterday, and guess what?

I’m pausing some more. Month of Pause, Part II? MonthS of pause? Even though it means butchering the poetic name, the extension is worth it.

One reason is that my mindful pause-taking suffered a major setback when both COVID and a stomach bug struck our household during the month (I’m the only one who tested COVID-positive and am fully recovered, and the stomach bug was intense but fast; at present, everyone’s healthy, knock on wood).

But there’s another, much bigger, much more important reason for continuing the pause.

I’ve learned that when my focus is on taking action, the frenetic pace of activity means crossing off to-dos without considering what goes on the list in the first place. It means gathering lots of information but gaining little wisdom.

When the focus is INaction, there is space and time to notice feelings and longings, reflect on them, go deeper.

Some of my insights from the month have been stupid simple, like noticing I feel better when I get enough rest (scientists call it “sleep” and I can’t recommend it highly enough).

Other insights have been more profound, like observing the extent to which I’ve bought into the capitalist ideal that productivity is the defining criterion in determining time well-spent.

(Going for a walk? Listen to an informative podcast at the same time! Oh, you just want to be present in your surroundings? Well, at least make sure to pull up the app that lets you identify birds you see along the way! No, just want to walk? Aim for a pace that keeps you in your target heart rate zone! HONESTLY.)

I’m basking in wonder at the realization that, to quote a modern cliché, I’m a human being, not a human doing.

To end the pause now would cut short the beautiful discomfort of feeling difficult things and welcoming them, of wresting my soul from the grip of busyness and the purported worthiness that it imparts.

I sheepishly emailed my picture book writing group to say it turns out I’m not quite ready to return after all.

I’ve unsubscribed from a bunch of mailing lists related to entrepreneurship and making money from blogging.

I’m spending lots of time caring for my family, with a lot more patience and presence than I had a couple months ago; when evening arrives and I’m exhausted from that wonderful, arduous job, I sink into the unparalleled pleasure of a good book.

There will undoubtedly be a point in the future when I’m ready to take a big step, but right now I have too many pearls of wisdom left to collect from my sea of pause (alright, I’m really going to stop with the analogies now. When I spend a lot of time in the written word, they start spewing like lava from a volcano. Gah, there’s another one!).

For now, I’m going to take a nap, then a walk, then dive into the evening routine with my kids.

Wishing you your own space for pause.

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