Essay From a Kosmos Reader

The Power of Pausing

Some time around the third month of the year 2020, people around the world experienced something truly extraordinary:

The whole world just stopped.

It was a terrifying and strange time.

We had no idea of the disease and death to come from Covid-19, and only a vague sense of the many forms of disruption ahead.

It was almost as if time had stopped altogether. And in that strange timeless moment, we were forced to re-examine much of our lives. We looked anew at education and parenting. We gained profound respect for millions of essential workers.

In the early days of the virus, many people stopped seeking medical treatment for fear of being infected. Health experts worried that illnesses would go untreated. Yet, after several months of sheltering-in-place, it was found that many health problems resolved without the need for medical intervention. One study concluded that more than half of doctor visits might be unnecessary.

In forcing us to re-examine our lives, we also discovered just how much we had been tormenting ourselves with our never-ending rush to get nowhere, and our constant need to fill a vague sense of inner emptiness with more and more “stuff.”

More than 60 years ago, the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda wrote the following words, almost as if he were thinking of the present time:

…If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.

Do you remember how the skies over Los Angeles, New Delhi and Venice were clearer than they had been in decades? And how, in the absence of car engines, suddenly you could hear birdsong? How many of us felt a new appreciation and gratitude for each other – that even in the midst of global crisis, we we were ‘all in this together’?

Neruda seems to have envisioned this too:

for once on the face of the earth…
let’s stop for a second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

But we were terrified too – not just of the virus, but of the growing economic meltdown. Millions of jobs and homes were lost.

And then, in the midst of it all, a series of violent, racially-charged outrages occurred. The events caught on video were so horrific, so obviously unjust, that they sparked protest around the world. What sparked this growing solidarity?

Is it possible that this huge silence of worldwide stopping, this Great Pause, carried within it something powerful enough to “interrupt this sadness of never understanding ourselves?” Was something being offered by this Great Pause that helped us be more receptive to the impact of those videos and scenes of social injustice?

If we allow for that possibility, then we might want to consider whether the power of pausing might enable new understanding, and offer new and profound ways of approaching our personal and collective lives.

What if we remember, again and again, to stop – to just “be” – if only for a moment? Perhaps in that brief moment, we could suspend our overly-confident beliefs and notions about how to fix ourselves, fix others, and fix the world. In doing so, we might discover a space, a clearing, a sudden strangeness in which we see differently, think differently, feel differently. And maybe then, we might discover how we all could really be together in a truly lasting way;

As Neruda wrote,

count to twelve…
and all keep still…. 

[and] allow the earth to teach us,
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive . . .

Here’s a pause you can try right now:

About Don Salmon

Since my teens, I’ve been passionately interested in ways to connect the cultivation of inner peace with creating peace in the outer world. In my 20s and 30s, I worked as a pianist/composer, often using mindfulness in my work with dancers, actors, and other musicians.   Jan (my wife) and I have been fascinated by recent developments in neuroscience, and have been incorporating them in our teaching of mindfulness, and I’ve also incorporated them in my work as a clinical psychologist. We’ve found that using the language of brain science helps to reach across ethnic, religious and cultural differences to celebrate both our uniqueness and our common hopes and aspirations. Visit: www.RememberToBe.Life

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