Pause

Well, Autumn is officially here. This morning I woke up to overcast skies, rain-streaked windows, and a chill in the house that prompted me to put on a sweater. Like many, Autumn brings memories of schooldays. Sharpened pencils and a backpack full of brand-new school supplies. A blank notebook waiting to be filled with lessons and doodles. Brand new shoes for my growing feet and changing out of the swimsuit I had worn all summer. Ah, yes Autumn was always a delightful time. Now that I am an adult, Autumn is vastly different. With my schooldays behind me, and my (future) children’s schooldays not yet begun, Autumn holds a different charm.

As a grownup, (apparently, I am one?), I have started to think of Autumn as a pause button. Sandwiched between the blistering, thought-crushing heat of summer, and the snuggly, lazy days of winter is this perfect season. Autumn – when it finally cools down enough to put a thought or two together, and it’s not yet cold enough to freeze your nose, toes, and brain cells.

It was my momma who first taught me about the power of pausing to analyze, reflect, rejuvenate, and prioritize. Each year, as Autumn rolls around, after the sun-soaked days of summer are behind us, I feel myself hitting the pause button. I think it has something to do with the leaves changing colour. I catch a glimpse of red and orange-tinged beauty out of the corner of my eye, and I stop to admire the trees in their autumnal splendour. My mind starts to wander as I appreciate the journey those trees took over the past months.

Stark, naked branches against a backdrop of white snow gave way to baby green leaves sprouting from their buds to the lush green foliage of summer, and finally, in a flashy show of red, orange, and yellow, those same laves cascade down upon us as they prepare to sleep for another spring to come. While tracing the trees’ course over the past year, I start to reflect on my own. Where was my life when those leaves were safely stowed away, and the snow blustered around those bare limbs? As the spring began to melt away the cold, dark winter days, what was I accomplishing? As bright green life burst forth, did I give anything so wonderful to the world? And now, here I am, finally pausing all the year’s whirlwind as the Autumnal Equinox arrives. Last year, as I caught sight of falling leaves, pumpkin patches, and sunflower fields, I made plans for the year to come. This year, as those same scenes flash by, I pause to wonder what I have accomplished. It is, after all, amazingly easy to get caught up in the hustle, bustle, tussle of a busy year.

Thankfully, throughout the year, there are little markers that provide a chance for mini-intermissions. Times to pause and re-evaluate my focus. New Year’s, Lent and my birthday are these mini-intermissions in my life. I feel pressure during these times, though, that I don’t feel during my Autumn pause.

On New Year’s Day, the entire world is awoken to immense pressure to reinvent ourselves. Diets and exercise, quit that bad habit and our procrastinating nature, lose weight and gain insight, save money, find love! Magazines and self-help podcasts are declaring their foolproof guide to accomplish your fancy New Year’s resolutions. When I was younger, creating resolutions was an important objective. As I grew older, though, I realize that I never quite made it past the creation stage of my resolutions.

Similarly, during the Lenten season, the priest at my church would often question my younger self about what I had chosen to give up for Lent. It was a routine each Catholic schoolchild completed year in and year out. My Lenten resolutions varied over the years from giving up chocolate to refraining from backtalking to my parents, being more patient with my sister and to spend more time on my piano lessons. I crafted beautiful and thoughtful resolutions, but all the pressure placed on those forty days caused my young mind to cave time and time, again.

My birthday is another mini-intermission in the year. As mid-June rolls around each year, my family celebrates my birth, and I question how I’ve gotten so ancient yet not feel a minute older than last year. And so, I pause to ponder! How has this past year changed me? What do I hope to do before I turn another year older? Each year, I get too distracted by cake, gifts, balloons, and party décor to put much thought into my ponderings.

Alas, when September, October and November finally roll around, I’m ready to put some pressure-free thinking into a gentle, relaxed pause.

My momma is the kind of person who doesn’t realize how profound she is. She throws a casual comment out into the abyss, and unbeknownst to her, that quick remark finds its way to me and reverberates within for, sometimes, years to come. Many years ago, momma made a passing observation about how the busier a person was, the unhappier they seemed. Not quite understanding, I prompted her to expand on her thoughts. She shared with me how she had noticed these busy little bees in her day-to-day life, and she thought she saw a correlation between their harried, hustling lifestyle and their general disposition. She opened my eyes to an entire life philosophy that day.

Without intending to place blame or hurl accusations, I was taught by the world around me, as I grew up, that I should never be sitting still. I should be working hard, staying up all hours studying for tests and perfecting school projects, inhaling caffeinated beverages in attempts to push my tired body further. I learned that the ability to multitask should be worn as a badge of honour. I felt pressured into being the “smart” student, a teacher’s pet, to write letters to governing officials about how I think the world should be, ace tests, and participate in impossible amounts of extracurricular activities to mould myself into a well-rounded person.

As a teenager and young 20-something, I thought a busy lifestyle translated into success, happiness, wealth, and peace. As a late 20-something, my busy lifestyle translated into burnout, an autoimmune disease, insomnia, depression, anxiety, dissatisfaction, unhappiness, failure upon failure, a mountain of debt, and the furthest feeling from peace in existence.

I believe, without a smidgen of doubt, my life would be dramatically different if I had learned as a younger woman the power of pausing.

Pausing allows you to take a beat to take a breath in your life. As everybody else is rushing around like a lunatic out there, I dare you to do the opposite.  

Maria Shriver

The busier I became, the less present I was and the I knew what I genuinely wanted. I was so busy; I didn’t even have time to assess how unhappy I truly was. If I felt a hint of unhappiness, my solution was to do more and become busier. One day, it dawned on me that I had turned into the person my momma had shrewdly observed those many years ago.

It was during one of those beautiful Autumn afternoons. My parents and I were sitting on a wooden bench looking out at the Ottawa River. It was the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend. I was basking in the warm sun, listening to the wind rustling through the trees and the gentle waves as they bumped along the rocks that bordered the shore. My eyes were closed, and I felt a small smile forming as I turned my face towards the sky. I could hear children playing nearby and the tip-tapping of little dog paws along the boardwalk as they trotted alongside their humans on a walk. I contemplated why life wasn’t always like this. My limbs, mind, and soul felt such calm and peace. I had spent the morning baking pies and cookies, preparing chicken, potatoes, and stuffing for a lovely feast to feed my happy little family. I danced around the kitchen to some of my favourite songs and enjoyed watching our Thanksgiving meal slowly come to fruition. Now we were soaking up one of the last afternoons when you could leave the house without a jacket on and still feel warm as the sun’s rays radiated down.

It could always be like this. The abrupt realization caught me off guard. Why was I keeping myself so busy doing nothing that brought me the peace and joy of that quiet afternoon? Because I had been taught that to be busy is to be happy. So, that Thanksgiving Sunday became my first conscious effort to pause and re-evaluate my intentions, ambitions, and aspirations.

It didn’t happen overnight, but I eventually let go of the glorification of busy. For years, I had kept myself busy and I had been confusing motion as improvement. Taking time to pause has taught me to remember what I want, realign myself, and dedicate myself to feeling genuinely happy. Throughout the years, I have taught my mind to do the exact opposite of what it was conditioned to believe years ago. In the past, when I would feel dissatisfaction with my life, or fatigue or illness in my body, when I would feel impatient, I would pile more on my to-do list. The moment I would feel ragged, or slowing down, my mind would pressure me to speed up and accomplish more. Now, I take those same moments and pause. Just stop. In the middle of a task, when I start to feel overwhelmed or rundown, I just pause. I take that small moment to remember that being busy is not something I should be proud of. Completing four tasks at once is not something to brag about. Sighs of impatient and answering my momma’s questions with frustration because I just-have-so-much-should-be-doing-right-now is not a badge of honour. I need to recall that big picture: peace, joy, tranquility. I need to pause.

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