Be Here Now. Sounds great. But, if you have ever tried to be here now by simply willing yourself to do it, you know how hard it can be. It is especially difficult to bring yourself to be calm when you’re very agitated. That’s because you’re trying to override very powerful impulses from your nervous system: the fight-or-flight response that is activated in all of us when we perceive a threat of some sort.
In order to effectively get a grip, you need to embrace what is happening inside. Embrace the full experience, enter into it, as opposed to thinking about it abstractly. But enter into it without getting sucked into it. In other words: Grasp it.
Now, this sounds like a tall order. And it is, indeed, very hard to do if you try to do it from the outside, so to speak, by trying to think your way into it. But it is much easier if you literally get in touch with your emotions.
It takes just one minute to literally get a grip:
– A simple way to do it is with a little ball. It could be a tennis ball, or, even better, one of these squeezable little stress balls (easy to find on the internet, search for squeeze balls or stress balls). You can also try it without a ball. For instance, use a pair of rolled-up socks, or paper crumpled into a ball…
– Get a grip on a little rubber ball. Feel it in your hand. Pay attention to the sensation of your hand holding the ball. Pay attention to what it feels like in your hand and your arm, as you gently (or not so gently) squeeze the ball. Then shift the ball to the other hand.
– You do this for one minute, closing your eyes, paying attention to the sensations in your hand and arm as you hold the ball, and shift between hands. You don’t need to stop thinking about anything else, just make sure that at least part of your attention is focused on feeling the sensation in your hand and arm as you hold the ball in each hand.
What is this about? Among other things:
– Active Pause is a simple mindfulness practice, a down-to-earth way to pay attention to what is happening in the moment.
– It is a simple way to get in touch with your embodied experience: i.e. to directly pay attention to what is happening in your body (the sensation in the hand) as opposed to being completely immersed in your mental activity. Nothing wrong with mental activity, it’s just nice to have access to more of your resources as opposed to just one.
– If you are feeling agitated, carried away with your thoughts or feelings, it gives you a chance to notice it and start dealing with the agitation instead of just being passively immersed in it.
– Having something specific to do during the pause helps you make it a more effective pause. For instance, if I just told you to pause for a minute, chances are you would still continue internally on the same trajectory you were on before the interruption. Having something to actively do (holding the ball, squeezing it, moving it from hand to hand, and, especially, paying attention to your sensations) engages part of your mind into something else than your train of thoughts… so you really have a break.