The Power of Pausing

I handle notes no better than many others. But the pauses; That is where the art resides. – Arthur Rubinstein

A Photo Shoot

A few months back, at a photo shoot, I was with a lot of people. There were clients, dancers, crew, photographers, catering — it was a busy set and a lot to do. Time was of the essence and we were pushing through the day. It got to be about an hour left and I felt stressed — there was barely enough time to manage all of it. It was me against the clock. The dancers for the shoot gathered in a location and were doing their thing, we got the shots and were about to run to a final location for the last pieces of the day when the choreographer suggested we stop for a second. He said these words, “Hey, I know it sounds corny, but could we just pause right now for a moment of silence? It’s just something I want to do. I just want us all to remember this feeling and place right here.” It did sound corny to me, actually. Until we did it. Then it felt like the most amazing thing I’d ever done. And something I’ll never forget for the rest of my life. I’ve been trying to make sense of why it made me feel that way and how best to describe it, ever since.

A tiny bit of research helped me uncover an entire movement that validated the experience.

An NPR article from 2015 discussed a nurse at the University of Virginia Medical Center who, after seeing scores of people die in a trauma center was moved by a chaplain who paused to pray for a recently departed patient, and then began implementing the practice himself. An act that then caught on and has become standard practice at many hospitals with lasting mental health benefits for the people who work there.

Musicians discuss the power of the space between notes. Spaces that are essential to the emotional qualities we associate to music.

In one of the greatest moments in sports history (1988), Kirk Gibson came onto the baseball field for the Dodgers in game one of the world series against a favored Oakland A’s team. He was injured and came in as a pinch hitter and proceeded to smack a walk-off home run to win the game. The announcer was famed Vin Scully, well-known as the greatest sports announcer of his era but left one of the most indelible marks in sports announcing history… by saying nothing at that moment.

A psychologist once explained to me that the leading factor in domestic squabbles turning violent is not giving someone space. Or, the phrase: “No, we’re going to talk about this right now!”

Pausing is a need we all share. The pause allows us to take something in and have it take hold in us. It calms and centers us. It returns us to our humanity. And in this fast-paced, never-off world that has evolved over the last decade or so, it’s clear that this natural part of us has fallen by the wayside. And, in fact, many wear their time-starved, hummingbird attention spans as badges of honor. In fact, we’ve become less-patient, more demanding, and all-too-quick to leave others behind on the climb to our own private mountain peaks.

But this is unnatural.

This poem by Judy Brown gives a great description of the need for the little spaces in our lives:

FIRE ~ Judy Brown

What makes a fire burn
is space between the logs,
a breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
too many logs
packed in too tight
can douse the flames
almost as surely
as a pail of water would.

So building fires
requires attention
to the spaces in between,
as much as to the wood.

When we are able to build
open spaces
in the same way
we have learned
to pile on the logs,
then we can come to see how
it is fuel, and absence of the fuel
together, that make fire possible.

We only need to lay a log
lightly from time to time.

A fire
grows
simply because the space is there,
with openings
in which the flame
that knows just how it wants to burn
can find its way.

And pausing is finding its way back into culture. I — and many others — leaped for internal joy when Ariana Huffington stood up (and laid down) for the power of sleep in her book, Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time, where she outlined all the consequences of sleep deprivation; including weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s. She made an airtight case for taking back the time necessary to recharge and outlined the diminishing returns of a sped-up life.

Likewise, the mindful movement has re-introduced us to taking things in at the pace of life. Yoga, digital detoxes, limited screen time and a renewed focus on travel, downtime, maternity/paternity leave and flexible work schedules all suggests the pendulum is swinging slowly back the other way. Perhaps the natural carbon offset of whatever just happened over the last twenty years.

But you have to make it personal or it’s hard to have it take hold. The powerful draw to keep endlessly doing is a difficult habit to break. Something inside us pushes us to do more, faster.

In my own fast-paced field of photography, I’m trying to apply this important pause. And, like all fields I’m sure, I’m feeling odd and guilty when I’m not pushing forward. Being always on-call makes one vigilant. I find myself spending inordinate amounts of time at my computer when I’m not shooting, doing all the little thing I think I need to do to stay on top of everything. Getting myself out there, making assignments even if nobody else is. I make lists upon lists of things I need to get done — things that couldn’t possibly all be done in a day. Those things grow and add and spill over into the next day, and the next, and the next. And it’s even true on set, where a clock is always ticking and the expectation to cram all the notes together comes from every direction.

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