The Power of The Pause


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Posted on March 15, 2016


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What good does it do to sit in a tree? Or to lie on a slab of rock and watch the clouds? And surely if you choose to do something like this, you should be producing something … or getting somewhere, t the very least, taking a photograph to put on social media? Can there really be any point if you’re, well, just sitting in a tree with no particular point in mind?

I would answer: yes. And here it is – it is about connection. Something has happened over the last two decades that is fundamentally changing the way we live and the way we connect. When I say connect, I mean the way we connect with nature, with other people, and, last but certainly not least, with ourselves. The internet and the rapid expansion of social media is bringing with it an apparent expansion of connection. But how meaningful and enriching are our ‘new’ connections?

With social media being such a powerful driving force in the way we choose to capture and share our experiences, do we actually spend more time and energy recording what we’re doing than actually experiencing it? Are we so intent on photographing, framing, posing, posting, sending, and then moving onto the next moment, that we miss the chance to pause and take in, with all our senses, including our emotional radar, where we are and how we feel?

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Imagine you’re in that tree. It wasn’t hard to get in – the tree is growing on a slope and has extended a wide branch like a seat before you. You have climbed in, hands on bark that’s gnarled, so your palms feel its hard, crisp edges and coarse lichen. You’ve found a spot to rest that is well balanced, your back on the trunk, a soft pad of moss under your bottom, one leg extended on the branch in front of you and the other dangling. Your view into the distance is framed by the tree’s branches, their leaf buds swollen, waiting for spring.

There’s a high sweet noise behind you, a bird calling out to its mates to alert them to your presence, and a cool breeze livening up your cheeks. You’re above the ground, being held by the tree, utterly relaxed. Your phone is in your bag on the grass down below, and anyway, there’s no signal here. It’s just you, and the tree. And the pair of you together under the sky. This is a pause.

Life is not a snapshot. Nor is it a Tweet. Nor does it become more valuable if a Facebook or Instagram post is liked or shared a hundred times. Life - or more accurately living - is a process of experiences, connections, reactions and feelings. Living is about being in the present, not in a past captured by a photograph, or in the anticipation of showing a photograph or telling a story in the future. It is the nitty gritty of what is happening right here, right now. Tapping into the present through pausing can have surprising effects: time can seem to slow down, sensory information can seem more vivid, the elements can feel raw and beautiful, and your body begins to tell you how it feels.

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A recent study challenged 1000 students from many different countries, including Mexico, USA, Uganda, Israel and the UK, to go without any technological media for 24 hours: no phone, no internet, no TV, no DVD, no music. ‘24 hours: Unplugged’, which was carried out by The International Centre for Media and the Public Agenda*, revealed a frightening set of withdrawal symptoms. Here are some of the comments.

 “I felt quite alone and secluded from my life. Although I go to a school with thousands of students, the fact that I was not able to communicate with anyone via technology was almost unbearable.” 

“My senses went numb and I felt paralysed.”

 “My nerves were overwhelmed.”

“I felt like a drug addict.”

The symptoms arose from being disconnected from technology. That’s the first thing to note. The second thing is that many people had no other form of connection to replace them – either personal connections with friends who weren’t plugged in to technology, or the ability to simply pause and be, with themselves. This last, the ability to be on your own, and quiet, has been under-nurtured in recent years, perhaps in direct correlation to the rise in our use of technology. The ten years that social media has been around is more than half a lifetime for most of these students, and for younger children it is a lifetime.

It’s the old adage: “Use it or lose it”. Without the gentle practice of pausing – and doing this in nature is, I would argue, the best place to do it – how can we learn to feel connected in ourselves and to ourselves?

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Social media is not per se a bad thing. It’s a valuable way of sharing, learning and making new connections, and most of us would agree it is a central and valuable part of our lives. Likewise, technology is not ‘bad’. Hey, this is a blog and the irony of taking a swipe at technology is not lost on me. But while it does allow us to communicate a lot more, it often does so without an accompanying physical and emotional connection – we ‘connect’ using only part of ourselves. And, if we simply move from one media distraction to another, we’re neglecting the valuable activity of pausing and allowing our senses to take in information about where we are, what we feel, and what we think. Without the pause, do you really have time to process the information about your place – what your eyes see, what your body senses, what you feel emotionally, and who you’re with?

Lodging our experiences through social media, and relying on technology to store our memories, carries a subtle threat. What we feel, and the memories we accumulate, contribute to our personalities; the less we are connected to these the more we may become, like the increasingly technological world around us, mechanical and homogenous. And, because being mechanical isn’t the way of human nature, with all its instincts, passions and idiosyncrasies, it may be a significant factor that contributes to sickness (why is distribution of antidepressants to teenagers on the rise?).

“Technology [is] the knack of so arranging the world
that we don't have to experience it.” 
Max Frisch, Architect, Novelist (1911-1991)

A pause is an opportunity to link mind and heart, to bridge the gap between what we see with what we feel, a chance to reason our way beyond uncertainty, or to become immersed in something new that forces a question or demands attention. Maybe, while you’re sitting in the tree, it’s a bud that wakens your curiosity. When you look at it closely, it is an intricate world. And the miniscule bug that walks on it, that you hadn’t noticed before, is equally complex, an iridescent brown-blue colour. It’s round but not a spider, and when you tenderly put your finger towards it, it jumps like a flea. Life in the small world, with its capacity to kindle wonder, is not visible until you pause. And the life within each one of us can remain equally invisible without the act of pausing. You could call it mindfulness, if you want.

So, sitting in trees, or beneath them, or lying on rocks, however cold, has become a regular part of our lives. It’s a bit like plugging back in to nature or to ourselves, to a simple circuit of connection. A welcome relief from being plugged in to the ‘World-Wide-Web’ and the flow of information that is thought to already have passed 8 zettabytes**.

Taking a pause is not all about recalibrating and refreshing on a personal level, though; it also gives the chance to notice things. Is the tree healthy? How many young trees are growing? Is there a place we could plant more? What are the signs on the land that tells its story, from the way it is grazed or farmed, or patterns in stone scatterings that might once have been barns, walls or fortresses? And what weather events are those clouds foretelling? Pausing can allow, relatively effortlessly, a deepening connection with self and with the planet, and, in the process, real, lasting and meaningful experiences. And one other impact, in all likelihood: the wish to do it again.

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Further info & links

* "24 Hours: Unplugged" 

** To give some context: 1 zettabyte is equal to 1,000 exabytes; 1 exabyte is one billion gigabytes. These are mind boggling numbers and the rise in information contained and shared by computers and broadcast media is exponential.  In 2006 the combined space of all computer drives in the world was estimated to be 150 exabytes; by 2009 the entire web-content was estimated to be 500 exabytes; by 2008 estimates had reached 2 zettabytes; now the measure is 8 zettabytes, and the rise isn’t stopping.

The Amerian International Data Corporation talks about this dramatic growth: “From 2005 to 2020, the digital universe will grow by a factor of 300, from 130 exabytes to 40,000 exabytes, or 40 trillion gigabytes (more than 5,200 gigabytes for every man, woman, and child in 2020). From now until 2020, the digital universe will about double every two years.

Source: THE DIGITAL UNIVERSE IN 2020: Big Data, Bigger Digital Shadows, and Biggest Growth in the Far East December 2012 By John Gantz and David Reinsel (Sponsored by EMC Corporation)

https://www.emc.com/collateral/analyst-reports/idc-the-digital-universe-in-2020.pdf

Huge thanks to Willie Stark of Callahan&Fish for designing the'pause' and other icons. 

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