Finding your pause

Finding your pause is a way to understand that while we don’t always control the situations that we face, we do control our reactions.

Rocks stacked neatly on a beach.
Photo: Pixabay.

This past year, many of us struggled to deal with the multiple challenges brought about by the pandemic. These challenges include the loss of losing loved ones to, or the fear of becoming afflicted ourselves, with COVID-19, job loss and a general uncertainty about the future. The need for mental resilience has been more important than ever. Although challenging, this has also been a time to improve and work on those efforts that relieve stress, that allow us to feel safe and supported and to live in a state of positivity and hope. For some, it is finding ways to strengthen relationships, creating new ways to work remotely, exercising, meditating, taking long walks of reflection or just increasing overall awareness to live in the moment.

Throughout my life, but especially this year to process life’s challenges and maintain emotional well-being, I reflected on the words and teachings of my mother, who was filled with wisdom passed down from generation to generation and hardship to hardship. As a Mexican immigrant and migrant worker until her mid-twenties, she knew that she had to operate differently and find her pause out of sheer survival living in a society and culture not suited to her comfortability. While some have had to face the hardships of 2020 as a new experience, like many minority women, I have had to personally deal with, or bear witness to my mother dealing with, the challenges of racial and discriminatory systems, practices and institutions that exist in certain places and having to find ways to not only be resilient, but to thrive and succeed throughout my life. These sorts of experiences can either build one up or set one back. For me, they gave me the stamina to endure and remain psychologically flexible during challenging times.

Lacking any kind of formal education, my mother's words came from her lived experiences growing up in the fields of Wisconsin picking cucumbers. As I think of some of her advice, I remember a repeated thought she would share with me when I was facing a difficult situation. Her advice was simple in its sharing, but profound in its impact, if executed properly. She always said that in situations where the initial reaction will make matters worse (or in her words, “get you in trouble”), take a moment to pause and go slowly before reacting. “Slow down, mija (my daughter)," she would say, so you do not wind up in jail, burn a bridge, hurt or offend someone with your words or deeds. These were the insights of a concerned mother who recalled times when she and her family were cheated out of hard-earned wages but had to continue to work for the person cheating them to survive. These were the insights of someone who had been called racial slurs and not been able to stand up for herself for fear of being blamed for starting the trouble in the first place. Little did she or I know at the time that reaction or going slowly is key to effective mindfulness.

Finding your pause, slowing down to take a deep breath or momentarily stepping back from a situation are ways to improve your reactions. This reminds us that while we do not always control the situations that we face, we do control our reactions, which is a skill more important for some than others. From my mother's simple wisdom, I learned this capability to hit a quick reset, to step back and not react, to improve my chances of finding the most beneficial and appropriate response. She taught me an effective way to mindfully stay focused in the moment and to be aware that there are multiple ways to respond to life’s stressors. Admittedly, at times, I have missed the mark although always understanding that her words were meant to keep me safe on many levels and when I am anchored enough to follow them, they have done just that.  

To learn more about mindfulness and how you can learn how to find the pause in your own life, visit MSU Extension's Mindfulness for Better Living website.

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