Katy was tired, her body exhausted and her mind scrambling to keep up. Refugees from Hurricane Katrina teemed through her doors like hordes at the gates. The world watched as walls of wind and water ravaged cities from New Orleans, Louisiana to Mobile, Alabama. Hundreds of thousands of people lost their homes and the worlds they knew. Some lost their lives. The Gulf Coast reeled from the one-two punch of the killer storm and the flooding of New Orleans. The whole country jolted as rescue efforts spiraled into mayhem and chaos. The botched response from the ill-prepared and devastated city governments and the achingly slow federal response shocked hearts across the globe.
Katy, the Director of The Montrose Clinic, was stretched thin in the best of times. Her clinic served Houston’s swelling indigent, uninsured, and gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender (GLBT) communities. For twenty-five-plus years, they’d provided sexually transmitted disease care and were at the vanguard of responding to the HIV epidemic. New Orleans’s gay, lesbian and HIV community swarmed to the clinic. Katy was in hyper-drive. Far under the radar screen of the relief efforts going on across town at the Astrodome, suddenly, patients at the Montrose Clinic, with no medical records, no homes and no funding, needed care, and more importantly, expensive medications. The clinic’s dedicated doctors and staff welcomed patients over the Labor Day holiday. Katy scrambled to find the money for their meds. Two weeks of this kind of pressure had taken its toll on Katy. She came through the door needing a spa get-a-way to unkink her body, soothe her anxious nerves, and calm her ricocheting mind. She was already looking forward to next month’s birthday gift to herself—a spa vacation to rest and relax.
These are extraordinary times. Spiritually committed people around the world are feeling the call to excellence in all avenues of life: loving and raising families, success and respect in business, human values and relationships, nurturing the natural world, and the realizing of truth in our everyday lives. We are called upon to stoke the brightest light of our selves and to shine brilliantly into the world, especially into the darkest crooks and crannies of our human condition. We are called to vision the very best that humanity has to offer and live fully into that vision. We spiritually minded, values held firmly in hand, stride into the day with our best intentions.
But the task of lifting the world from darkness can feel daunting. The specter of every ism known to society: sexism, racism, classism, poverty, hate, and greed can zap the energy, along with all the good intentions, from many a spiritual activist. The evening news is a steady stream of war, tragedy, horror, and violence. The environment and our precious resources are under siege; offered on the world market at discount prices to the highest bidder; a too high percentage of our human family scramble for enough food to eat or safe shelter to sleep the night. If life is a school than surely times like these are our mid-term exams.
Yet we are born for such times. We are called to fortify our truest selves, to marshal our physical, emotional, mental, moral and spiritual energies and direct them for all that is right and good in this world. And in the scope of all the work needing to be done, it’s easy to exhaust ourselves in the process; to run on fumes; or worse, flat out of gas. This is where practicing the simple “Power of the Well Intentioned Pause” comes in handy.
The very nature of energy is to expand and contract. It’s one of the few constants in the universe. The stars and their moons rise and set, waves of water crest and fall, electricity pulses, hearts contract and then pulse, lungs rise and fall, orgasms come and go. Energy may be constant but it oscillates. The energy keys in our bodies are the same.
Physically we have times of effort and times of rest and sleep. Emotionally we balance our sense of individuality and our need to connect with the people around us. We can be mentally muddled and confused or focused and clear. We can pursue lives and ideals we don’t truly want for ourselves or we can live our deepest values in the world. Spiritually we can remain dormant or we can sparkle and thrive. There is a fine line between efficiency and burnout. The fulcrum that makes the difference is respecting your body’s need for pause and rest. This simple directive sounds, well too simple. But in these times of over stimulation, hyperactivity and multi-tasking, our bodies consume tremendous amounts of energy that we simply must restore. If we are to continue to thrive we must learn to balance performance with pause.
A prime example comes from the laboratory of pro sports players. For thirty years sports psychologists Jim Loeher and Tony Schwartz have helped professional athletes define what it takes to succeed at the most competitive levels under the highest pressures. Beginning their work with tennis pros, Loeher set out to determine what separated the top-ranked stars from the rest of the pack. He was frustrated during his studies. He couldn’t separate much difference between the peak performers and the other players during points: their strokes, speed and strength where often similar. He discovered the key difference when he focused on what the players did between the points, not during the points. The topped ranked players, each and everyone, had a personal ritual for calming their breath and heart rate, sharply focusing their attention, and preparing for the next point. These rituals might last only ninety seconds between points, but practiced often were highly effective. It gave the players the extra stamina and focus to leap ahead of the pack.
The importance of a “work-rest” ratio was first introduced by Flavius Philostratus almost two-thousand years ago. Flavius, a trainer of Greek Olympic athletes, understood that after intense training, his athletes needed time to rest and recover their energy. Modern science calls this “compensation. As Jim Loeher states in his book The Power of Full Engagement:
After a period of activity, the body must replenish fundamental biochemical sources of energy…Increase the intensity of the training or performance demand, and it is necessary to commensurately increase the amount of energy renewal. Fail to do so and the athlete will experience a measurable deterioration in performance….Balancing stress and recovery is critical not just in competitive sports, but in managing energy in all facets of our lives.
“A well intentioned pause” is an extension of Loeher’s discovery with tennis players. A strategic pause becomes a practice for everyday life. It is simply remembering, on a regular and consistent basis throughout the day to completely unplug from the all-consuming tasks at hand: a chaotic workday fraught with calls, meetings, and deadlines; demanding children, navigating the stresses of family and relationships; driving in traffic; balancing the demands of personal life and community service, or fighting for social justice.
It is our focused intention that sets this kind of pause apart. The power of our intention is source of tremendous energy in, and of itself. When I turn my intention to rest, restore and refuel my energy; when I turn my intention to calm and soothe my feelings and mind, life naturally responds. Possible pauses can be just about anything that unplug us from the consuming thoughts of our day and refuel our energies. Anything you consciously do to disconnect from the intensity of your day and nourish your energy will make a big difference. They include:
a few minutes of breathing or meditation, a set of stretches, sit-ups, or push-ups going to the gym,a dance, yoga, or aerobics class,reading a juicy novel, a phone call to an inspiring friend or a loving family member, a walk outdoors in nice weather is mighty helpful, a nap, savoring a healthy meal.
A well intentioned pause can last ninety seconds, ten minutes, one hour, a day, or a week. Don’t underestimate the power of a deliberate ninety-second pause. Remember the tennis pro’s in Loeher’s study. Between points, they each had a ritual that rested their energy, calmed their breath and heart-rate, and then focused their attention to the next point. It was this consistent rest and recovery, brief as it was, that separated the top-ranked players from the rest of the pack. The key is to train your mind and body to relax and restore energy in concentrated pauses. Our bodies respond quickly when these ritual pauses become a well trained habit.
The ten to twenty minute pause is a good place to start for beginners. This is ample time to unplug from the demands consuming your attention, soothe frazzled nerves, and to refuel spent energy. Ten minutes of focused breathing is excellent. Train the people around you to respect your pauses. A ten minute pause interrupted by a phone call and an officemate poking their head through the door is barely a pause at all. You’d have to be as skilled as a tennis-pro to get much benefit from such a pause.
Your lunch break can be a strategic pause. Simply savor a healthy meal, sit by your self or with friends. The key is not to read or work—enjoy your food. Go to the gym, take a dance, yoga, or aerobics class that both challenges you and gives you pleasure. Take a walk outdoors in nice weather is good, reading a juicy novel, or a nap if you can (I take a ten to fifteen minute nap most every day). Find the pauses that work best for you, but take the time to stop. Do something that you enjoy. Pleasure refuels our energy tanks. Anything that feels like work or effort drains our fuel tanks.
A day long pause sounds easy enough, but how many of us really take a day off? In our hyper-drive world, it’s easy to cram two days worth of “home” work and repairs, seeing friends and family, shopping, and errands into the weekend. There’s little left over for fun and play. I love taking a day trip to the beach or to the Texas Hill Country. We pile the dogs into the Ford and head out of town. Another great pause is a romantic weekend away. What a gift to myself and to my lover to travel away from our world and just enjoy our time together, exploring some place together.
A week long pause can be more than a vacation. How many people come home from their vacations needing a vacation? I asked Deepak Chopra what he did to sustain the momentum of his life and teaching. To my surprise, in addition to service and charity work, working in a community of like minded people, and studying the world’s scriptures, he said, “Principally through meditative discipline… every 3 to 4 months, I go into a week of total silence where I have no communications with anyone, not even my family, not with phone or fax or a book or a magazine or a radio set or a television set; total silence for about 5 days to 7 days.”
I used to run myself ragged. My days started between 5 and 6 AM writing at the computer, shift to teaching yoga and Nia dance classes, and then I worked giving massages till 8:30 PM. I would come home exhausted with barely enough energy to eat and say hello to my husband. With my strategic pauses built into my day, I arrive home ready for dinner and a good conversation. I have the emotional energy to listen, share, and engage. And I’m happier and healthier for it (Jim likes it too).
Love your way, ad
Alan Davidson, founder of
author of Body Brilliance:
Mastering Your Five Vital
owner of Essential Touch
Watch the Body Brilliance Movie
Dedicated to our healthy, happy, and prosperous world through the full enlightenment of every human being.
Through Your Body
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Houston, TX 77019