The first point is where you can start as a beginner meditator. Taking a ’sacred pause’ is about bringing your brain state and physiology into a state of rest, far deeper than relaxing in front of a sitcom or even chatting with loved ones. It’s like entering energy-saving mode, in which incoming and outgoing information is on standby. It’s a state in which time seems to slow down, and with it the pace of your thoughts. It’s a pause from any planning, worrying, ruminating or even dreaming about the future. Nothing to be processed; just a state of being.
Once you’re successful in this practice, your nervous system learns that it has the power to bring you out of the stress state on demand. That kind of empowerment can massively reduce the experience of anxiety, because your mind isn’t afraid that you might be stuck living with this feeling. When we take refuge in the pause of meditation, we’re navigating our consciousness to the present moment, in which we are (for the most part) objectively safe.
But, I hear you say, how can I find the present moment when my thoughts continuously grab my attention? Well, we need an anchor. You may remember in the film Inception, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character uses a spinning top as a totem to check if he is dreaming or in waking reality: if it topples over, he’s awake; if it keeps spinning, he’s dreaming. We too need some kind of anchor in the present moment to check if we’ve got lost in thought. The most accessible way to do this is to use your senses. Touch, smell, taste and sight are all present-moment experiences. By tuning into the sensation of your flesh against your seat, or the movement of breath in your lungs, you’re bringing your awareness to what is happening right now.
So there’s your first tip: come into the present moment by feeling your feet on the ground, the movement of air at your nostrils or seeing the colours around the room you’re in. Sense into something that feels tangible in the here-and-now. Know that your mind WILL deviate from this anchor — that’s what it has learned to do and does so well. Your practice is to keep patiently guiding your awareness back to this anchor, with all the compassion you would have for a child learning to walk. It takes reps, and all you’re looking for is that little gap between thoughts in which you can rest, if only for a split second at a time.
Once you’ve learned to regulate your state with this pause, you can use meditation as a way of working through some of the thoughts and feelings that might be causing ongoing stress and anxiety. It’s crucial to start with the pause, because if you start analysing your thoughts from a state of stress, you might get dragged further into the spiral that’s already churning.
When you’re calm and present, you can start to watch your thoughts and feelings as the Observer. The Observer is the part of your psyche that looks at your persona as if from an outside, objective view. This part of you is inherently peaceful and compassionate, because it isn’t involved in any worldly concerns. I like to think of it as the Dalai Lama within us all (in Buddhism they call it our ‘buddha nature’ — the potential in all of us to be enlightened, without a care and full of peace and joy).
As you cultivate this Observer perspective — within the sacred pause that slows everything down to a manageable pace— you can notice anxiety/frustration/shame/fear/judgment arise. It’s no longer the entirety of your experience. You no longer say “I am anxious”; rather, you can say “anxiety is arising in me”. We’re talking about detachment. With detachment we are no longer stuck with an experience; we can choose not to believe what’s arising, because there’s no proof of our anxious thoughts in the present moment. Yes, there will likely be push-back. Your mind might say, “this fear/frustration/shame is real, because X happened or Y might happen!”
As you sit and watch these various voices in your head, remember this: you will rejoin your waking reality, and you’ll find solutions when your head is clear. The practice of meditation is about reminding yourself that you can find freedom from all stress whenever you choose to pause and take the seat of your Observer. You can suspend yourself outside of time and space for these moments, sort out fact from fiction, and then go back to addressing your life with a refreshed perspective.