Presence, Pause, PossibilityAug 24, 2022
Pause. Breathe. Notice what you are thinking right now.
The idea that humans are self-relational creatures—that we can know what's going on in our minds—might seem obvious, simple, and perhaps basic to what we know and experience to be true in yoga. Yet, it’s an extraordinary notion when you consider its implications.
Anthropologists would say we are participant-observers. We participate in our inner and outer lives, and we can also stand back and observe ourselves from an outside perspective.
I believe that this is one of the major ways that transformation happens in yoga. As we practice, we create just enough distance from our mental states and thoughts to be able to see and know them. As a result of becoming aware of our thoughts and moods, we gain some freedom from them. In this freedom lies the possibility for a shift in perspective.
In a retreat I taught several years ago, one participant shared how this expressed something she'd been experiencing while facing substantial health challenges. Through the awareness she gained in her meditation and breath practices, she recognized that her usual reactivity no longer served her and, importantly, she realized she had a choice. She didn't have to be her usual reactive self. She could practice being more accepting and patient.
Through presence and pause, the possibility of a different response arose, one that served her better.
This is a capacity we develop in yoga. We cultivate the presence of mind to pause and remember that this shift in perspective is available to us, and then to consider and make space for other possibilities.
Here’s one way to experience this process through breath awareness:
1- Presence: Breath happens now. Being conscious of your breathing brings you into the present, immediately. You can’t be worrying about the future or dwelling in the past when your attention is on your breath.
2- Pause: Bringing awareness to your breath allows you to step back and take a moment before you react when a rude driver cuts you off or your child neglects to clean her room, again. Pausing to take a breath creates a space where you gain greater control in how you respond to situations.
3- Possibility: In the pause there is a possibility of not reacting in a habitual way and instead responding in a more thoughtful and intentional way.
Presence, pause, and possibility is the trajectory we travel over and over again on the journey toward becoming more of who we wish to be.