Category Archives: pause

The Importance of Discernment and Taking Pause

This week I want to share an experience with you that I had just a few days ago, and why it reminded me of the importance of discernment and taking pause – especially online. It’s actually a bit long, so I’m trying something new. Here are the practical highlights from the story. (If you want to read the full story in context, it will follow.)

  • Generalized or sweeping statements (especially if they’re extreme), about any segment of the population or subject, are often not based in data and facts. They are a tool used to underscore someone’s opinion.
  • Engaging someone who only wishes to argue and prove their opinion is “right” is a waste of energy. Use your energy elsewhere to create positive change.
  • Practicing discernment is part of self-care. Knowing when to engage is just as important as knowing how to engage.
  • Taking pause before speaking allows you to assess how best to engage.
  • Attacking someone based on their opinion or manner of speech is still an attack and proves worthless in the end. Using facts and data to rebut a generalized claim is a healthy approach.
  • Everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion. Everyone is not entitled to spread lies based on their opinion. Knowing and understanding this difference is important.
  • Practicing discernment and taking pause is a key component of healthy connection, both with others and with ourselves, especially in heightened emotionally-reactionary situations.
  • Never underestimate the power of choice and the role it plays in the quality of your life.

That’s it. That’s the basis of the story. But if you want the context, and to know what actually happened and how I handled it, then read on. Plus, there’s a great new announcement at the end of the email that I am tickled to share with you! xo

=======

THE FULL STORY

I was on Facebook, and a friend had shared a political article. It was about Muslims or refugees, the specific details don’t matter with what I am about to relate. In the comments to my friend’s post, a person (unknown to me) shared her opinion on Muslims in America. Actually, she shared her opinion on Muslims around the world.

She made some sweeping generalized statements that are unverified, such as “none of them (the non-violent Muslims) are speaking out” about the violence and terrorism, “which means they condone the actions,” none of which were based in facts or research.

I had two options.

  1. Reply to her comment and provide actual facts with regard to her statements, or
  2. Stay silent.

Lately, with the escalation in hate-speech and fear-based language that I have seen bantered about so freely on the internet, I have chosen to disengage somewhat in order to preserve some measure of my own sanity. For me, it’s Self-Care 101: Be Discerning. My discernment meant being much more in control over my online presence, both in what I was posting, but also what I was reading.

I recently had a conversation with a friend about this, actually. She had read the comments on a thread and became immediately disheartened with humanity. I can relate. So, I told her that I have done my best to only read those types of things when a) I am in a good emotional place and can practice discernment, and b) when I feel like I need to take a measurement of things. In other words, when I want to get a temperature of the emotional climate.

In last week’s instance with regard to this woman’s extreme statements, I was in a good place, and it was a friend’s thread so I read the comments. Subsequently, I chose to respond.

I did not attack the woman. Attacking serves no purpose, and it’s the fastest way to assure that your argument will not be heard. Nor did I attack her values and opinions – they’re hers. Who am I to judge? However, I did decide to correct her on facts, which I think was important.

Where she made sweeping statements not based in fact, I offered data and examples. I shared how I located this information, and suggested that the blame for the lack of widespread knowledge of such (which she had placed elsewhere) resides more with the mainstream media, who seem to choose to focus on the sensational.

Specifically, I mentioned one example of non-violent Muslims speaking out against violence and terror using the campaign Not In My Name to refute her claim that “none of them are speaking out.”

I am sharing this story for two reasons:

  1. We all have choice. Always. It’s one of the basic premises of what I teach. The power of choice directly impacts your life. One of the ways in which to strengthen the power of choice is by practicing discernment. As I said, at other times I have also chosen not to say anything in response to some inciting statements. I have discerned when I think it is appropriate, based on whether or not I can meaningfully contribute. (In other words, if someone just wants a fight, engaging them in that process is often a waste of energy.) I call it seed planting. That also means that I don’t have a specific expectation or investment in the outcome. My goal is to share truth where there are lies, hope where there is fear, and give it time to take root. If I am able to do that, I have done well.
  2. How we choose to engage matters. As I mentioned, if we are employing the same fear-based or emotionally reactionary tactics that we are responding to, then we are perpetuating the situation and potentially escalating it. This holds true whether it’s politics or personal relationships. Reacting from a place of shame, blame, or attack inevitably results in further breakdown.

In this example, I was worried that I would end up in some back and forth with this woman, which caused me some distress until I reminded myself that I get to choose to engage or not. Discernment.

In the end, she actually deleted her comments, which also deleted my reply. I can speculate about what that means, but I am choosing not to. My hope, however, is that I planted some seed of truth that will cause her to pause before making generalizations against any segment of humanity going forward.

And that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it? That we practice discernment, choose to take pause before we speak, and ask ourselves a simple question: Is this true? And if we can’t answer it with 100% certainty, I would hope that it would prompt more research, thought, and discussion.

In this day and age of reactionary armchair politics and vicarious virtual reality, we have all but removed discernment and taking pause from our interactions. Yet, it’s this power duo that actually allows us to connect, not only with one another, but, perhaps more importantly, with ourselves.

Finding Your Five

This past week I had several conversations with people, from clients to strangers to family and friends, all about how to find your five, and why it’s so important to do so, regularly.

What is “Finding your five?”

It’s about identifying what you can do and what works for you to find pause in only five minutes, thereby restoring some balance to your day. When I worked in corporate America, I stumbled upon this idea and quickly adopted it into my life and adapted it to other situations. Here’s what happened:

I worked at a high-stress luxury retailer for a number of years. Before that I was a fundraiser for a major medical school. Both of these jobs required a lot of management, interaction, and attention. And there were a lot of personalities moving about, mine included. At the fundraising job, I had an office with a door, so it became easy (i.e. not mindful) for me to close the door for 5-10 minutes, listen to a song or just read something not work-related. It was a mindless balm in the middle of a busy day.

At the retailer, I was in an office with two other women, so privacy was not an option. I learned quickly how to create my own privacy by going to the restroom. Specifically, I went to the restroom on a different floor. Whether or not I had to use the facilities, I went when I needed 5 minutes. I didn’t have a smartphone, so there was no email, music or internet to go through and busy myself, which was better for me. I would go to the restroom, go into a stall, close the door and sit on the edge of the toilet, and simply breathe. I’d think of things that made me happy, and quietly breathe until I felt a bit of balance and stress-alleviation return to my body. It usually took 5 minutes, sometimes less.

I have since taught clients, friends and family this little trick, and it works in every situation. Why? Because nobody can (or will) stop you from going to the bathroom. It’s almost an uncomfortable subject, so people just nod in acknowledgement when you say you have to go, and you leave. It’s always an option, and it’s the easiest way I know of to take five, without conflict.

Furthermore, the truth is there is really very little that can prevent you from taking five. If you’re a surgeon, perhaps it’s not the best idea to take a potty break in the middle of your work. Then again, if I’m ever being operated on (and it’s not life-threatening), if my surgeon really needs a 5-minute break for physical and/or emotional reasons, I’d much rather he/she take their 5 than push through it while working on me.

So, the question is: What’s your 5?

Here are some examples for you to consider that focus on the five senses:

  • Taste: food, specifically dark chocolate.If you like chocolate, test this out. Grab a piece, put it in your mouth, and set a stopwatch. Without chewing, see how long it takes to dissolve completely. Experience it melting, focusing on nothing else. My guess is it will be more than 5 minutes and you’ll feel quite relaxed afterward.
  • Listening: Music or a podcast, depending on what works for you, are a great way to take 5. Choose something uplifting that gets your head and heart moving. Pick a favorite song (or songs) that last about 5 minutes and keep them with you at the ready. Or do the same with a podcast or something from YouTube.
  • Seeing: Visual beauty, however you define it, inspires and brings us joy. If that’s a walk among flowers and trees, great! If it’s looking at a favorite painting or item, also wonderful. The key is to keep it readily available and easily accessible. It’s a visual cue you create to signal to your body that it’s time to pause, breathe and relax. (A caution here: if you choose an image with people you know in it, it may not have the same calming effect as it could stir up emotions. For example, a picture of your kids might make you smile, but then it might make you think of the errands you need to run for their school supplies, which may not be relaxing.)
  • Seeing, part 2: Reading is a great way to take 5. Anything supportive, inspirational, or uplifting can recharge you. Exploring positive words on a page enriches both your mind and your heart.
  • Smelling: Aromatherapy has been around for millennia, because it works. Whether or not it works for you is a matter of trial and error with different scents. For calming and stress-release, try lavender, sandalwood, ylang-ylang or chamomile. Invest in a small bottle of essential oil and carry it with you. When you take 5, open the bottle take a sniff and see how your body responds. You may be surprised.
  • Feeling: This is my favorite! Why? Because, for me, it encompasses all the others. When I touch or feel something that uplifts me, such as a favorite blanket or even item of clothing, it brings back memories of sounds, images, smells, and/or tastes from experiences in the past. A simple item can trigger some of the happiest most joy-filled memories, which enhances any mini-break. Petting my dog is similar. There’s a reason having pets in a nursing home helps to improve the morale of the residents.
  • Feeling, part 2: The best feeling I’ve found, however, is the sensation of breath. Breathing with attention is about feeling everything going on inside you. It’s not touch, per se, but it’s still feeling. With each breath, your skin becomes more alive and responsive to slight breezes, for example. Breathing consciously for 5 minutes is the best way I know to find my five.

Whatever your 5 is, find it, name it, and use it. Regularly and often. Not only will you become more adept at self-care and knowing yourself, but you’ll feel a lot better too!

[And remember: small changes, over time, lead to big results. Five minutes is perfectly sized to create something great!]

What now?

What do you do, when you don’t know what to do? I was recently asked this question by one of my clients. And truth be told, I’ve asked it of myself many times before. It’s more common than you might think. Often times it simply comes in the form of doubt or fear: Fear of moving forward, fear of not moving forward; Fear of making the wrong decision, and fear of making the right decision. Sometimes others provide us with the answer of, simply, “do anything!” But is that helpful? I suppose it can be, but the vagueness of that reply can reinforce and underscore the feeling of emptiness inherent in the question. So, while it’s certainly encouraging – it’s not necessarily helpful.

Here’s what I think works better: when in doubt, leave it out. Initially, perhaps that’s a bit counterintuitive, but it makes sense if you look at it. So let’s do that. If you are in doubt about something, it automatically muddies the water of your life by creating friction between your conscious and subconscious minds. Muddy water can then seep into other areas that were previously quite clear, which ultimately results in the exasperated feeling of “what now?” So, to start with, we omit the portion that is sullying the water. Yes, it’s easier said than done – but here’s a trick:

Rather than focusing on omitting the cause, focus on everything else. Go as simple as you need to go, until you are in clear water again. As with everything, when we focus on the negative things and try to change them – we only give them more power and influence over our lives. But if we focus on the positive things, and do our best to expand them, then we are really living authentically for who we are. Here’s an example:

A few years ago, I experienced this feeling of “what now?” and I felt myself going in circles. I tried to fix that which I thought was broken, and the resulting distraction from what was good in my life only caused the good things to be more neglected and ultimately need my “fixing” attention as well. I realized, with help from others, that this was not working, and I paused, shifted my attention, and started to focus on that which was good. Nurturing it, loving it, accepting it. Unfortunately, I had let it go so far, that I was really stripped back to the basics. I spent many days and weeks waking up and simply looking around me and allowing myself to feel grateful for the simplest things: a beautiful tree outside my window, a bird’s song, a smile from a friend, a roof over my head, food on my table, etc. You get the idea. These are the simple things that most of us take for granted, because we have been too busy, or not had occasion to be without. In light of what’s going on in Haiti, this exercise is even more poignant. Oprah introduced the concept of a Gratitude Journal to the world. This concept has been around for a lot longer though. A child’s prayer by his bedside at night is the original ‘gratitude journal’ – whether he is praying to God, Allah, Buddha, etc.

What I’m saying is that when we feel overwhelmed by life, and all the chaos and clutter in our minds, hearts and houses – the best way to move forward into peace, happiness and serenity, is to seek out that for which we are grateful, and focus on those things, one at a time. Once our attention is turned, and we can catch a breath or two, we can then take deliberate action, one step at a time, to make changes in our life that will lessen the chaos and disorder. Therefore, instead of looking at a pile of laundry, look at the many clothes you have, and be grateful. Then, do one load at a time – maybe one load a day, until you’re caught up. When it’s all folded and ready to be put away – perhaps there are a few items that you no longer need: items that have added to the chaos and clutter in your life. These are items that may be a blessing to someone else. Could you let go of them? When we are truly grateful for what we have, we sometimes realize that we have too much. Especially in times of need, what a blessing it would be to share our abundance with others. Not only will we be helping someone else, but we will be helping ourselves, too – by taking steps toward preventing a future uprising of that “what now?” feeling.

It all begins with your decision to pause, and choose a different perspective. And isn’t that just amazing? That a feeling as overwhelming as “I don’t know what to do,” can be transformed into empowerment within a few seconds, simply by pausing, looking around you and allowing yourself to appreciate what you already have, and what you already have done. What a gift.

In love and light,

Martina