The Pause

I was walking fast. Because I was thinking fast.

I was overseeing a project that was derailing, I had a menacingly close deadline, I was moving in nine days, and the internet wasn’t working. Panic had set in and I was racing to get out.

I sped down the sidewalk, sped through my thoughts, and nearly sped over the curb into traffic coming both ways. At the last moment, I looked up from myself to see the ‘Don’t Walk’ sign across the street. And it brought me to a full stop.

It was the first pause I’d taken since I’d woken up. I’d been frantically throwing myself against this wall of problems. And when I couldn’t make a dent, I just backed up further and ran harder.

But here on the sidewalk, I was paused. It’s like what T.S. Eliot described in “Four Quartets” as “the still point of the turning world.” It’s the point, I think, where our clearest insights live.

Panic can narrow our attention down to everything that’s going wrong. It crowds out inventiveness, curiosity, and other courageous muscles. And I’m left reacting rapidly rather than responding reflectively.

A pause doesn’t change the turning world. But it can change us in it.

It’s like a semi-colon, a little interruption to break up the swift momentum of panic. Just enough time to steady our thinking and widen out our attention. Out to clearer insights and more courageous muscles.

Pauses aren’t always easy to see. But if we remember to look for them, we’ll find them, tucked between what the world gives us and how we respond.

The walk sign changed. My situation didn’t. But I – after this brief pause – moved a little more steadily out into the turning world.

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