Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Pause Button

One of the most useful things that mindfulness practice can give us in daily life is access to a moment that one of my teachers called "the reflective pause." When we get caught up in our stories and emotions about people or situations (or both), we can always push this Pause button, feel the body breathing a few breaths, and then respond reflectively, rather than react reflexively. In many cases, we might realize that the best response is to do nothing at all - the situation will change all by itself without our having to step in and try to control it or fix it.

The reflective pause lets us step back a bit from the scene and give the situation some air. It allows us to respond with a lighter touch, in most cases, accessing wells of loving kindness and compassion for others or for ourselves. Many times we have thrown permanent solutions at temporary problems. Grand gestures are made, or harmful words spoken that can never be revoked, leaving wounds that can take years, or even lifetimes, to heal.

In my work as a psychotherapist, I have been trained to help people who have reached that darkest of pivotal moments in their life when ending it all together becomes more preferable than going forward. Whenever a client expresses genuine suicidal wishes, I never deny their experience. Instead, I suggest to them that right now they are angry or sad or distraught, and they are not in the right frame of mind to make such an important decision. Each time I have intervened in this way, the client has calmed down considerably, seen the wisdom of this suggestion, and agreed not to take any action toward killing themselves. When we check in the next day, they are in a completely different mood and usually the suicidal ideation has passed.

In a New Yorker article from October 13, 2003 called "Jumpers: The Fatal Grandeur of the Golden Gate Bridge," author Tad Friend interviews several people who made failed attempts at suicide by jumping off the historic span. One man's story is particularly insightful: “I still see my hands coming off the railing,” he said...“I instantly realized that everything in my life that I’d thought was unfixable was totally fixable—except for having just jumped.”

When wild torrents of raging thoughts begin to get the best of you, disengage from them and bring your attention to the present-moment sensory reality of the body breathing. Or you can place your care and attention on the emotional experiences that are arising because of the thoughts. In either case, you will create a little space in which to stop, reflect, and then respond more effectively, if necessary.


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