He who Hesitates is Found: Finding Mental Health in Space

The best part of a vacation? The weeks leading up to it. Of going to an event? Getting ready for it. Anticipation is magic. It is the hours leading up to something that are full of possibility, that which has not been yet realized. We rush through life and often miss the pauses and the silent holes where the magic happens. We create best when our minds and bodies are offline.

Rollo May, the brilliant existential psychologist, writes eloquently of the “pause” – of the space that is not filled. He argues that the pause is where the action is – where creativity happens. The pause is full of hope – we are often at our most free during the pause and as Kierkegaard has said “Freedom is possibility”. It’s the moment before the kiss, before the first bite, before you speak. You can go in any direction, create, change things, or keep them the same.

In May’s writings about the “pause” or the spaces between things, he presents a poem from Lao Tzu. It is stunning and I will just share a piece of it:

We make a vessel from a lump of clay;

But it is the empty space within the vessel that makes it useful.

We make doors and windows for a room;

But it is the empty spaces that make the room livable.

Thus, while existence has advantages,

It is the emptiness that makes it useful.

We are so focused on filling our lives, that we may be missing that sweet spot of the pause, of possibility, of what might yet be. Silence and waiting were once something that were commonplace. No cell phones or texts or 24/7 emails. People knew how to wait. If we waited we just sat and existed. Now, the only place we really can be without distraction is possibly the shower. And think about it – for many of us, our best thinking takes place there. I can’t stop – as long as I have a blackberry in my hand and an internet connection nearby – I work. So I decided that I needed to do an intervention. I am going into the Himalaya next week – no phone, internet, nothing. I will have lots of pause. It will be a living experiment. I am a little concerned about what I may find.

May argues that we sort of motor through life with a pendulum –like automaticity. Back and forth. X leads to Y. But if we grab the pendulum and stop it – it will stop moving. And then what? We are no longer on a blind back and forth, but now there is the potential for something new. He argues that when we live like in this automatic way – we give up “wonder” and we blindly go through our lives rather than taking a minute and entertaining possibilities that are off the grid.

We even take the pause out of our down time and leisure time – filling it up with activity, errands and the like.

In fact, the pause may be one of the better weight loss strategies there is. Much of the reason why we gain weight is the unmonitored mindlessness of most of our eating. If we pause for a moment and say – am I really hungry? or is there something else I could choose? – the many extra pounds could be dropped effortlessly. Every pause offers a choice to do things differently, and perhaps better.

Are we scared of possibility? Scared of hope? Afraid of entertaining our dreams? If we stay chronically busy, and never stop, then perhaps we won’t feel, or question. And if we feel or question, we may just be compelled to make a change, and upset the apple cart. Choice and freedom are actually quite frightening – reminders that we are in fact the captains of our ships, the keepers of our destinies. It feels like a lot of responsibility, and the Pandora’s Box of dreams unrealized beckons like a scary Siren’s call.

If ever you wanted to give yourself a gift – here it is. Give yourself a day or morning, or hour of nothing. Of pause. Just sit. And see what happens when you give yourself over to openness, awareness. Not over the top mind-clearing meditation. Just be. Fantasize, think of what you want to be. Take these dreams to their absurd conclusion.

The emptiness is sometimes where it is at. It is a point of choice. Do we go left or right? Up or down? Stay or go? Speak or remain silent. In that silent moment of pause, your power is realized.

He who hesitates may be found.


This entry was posted on Monday, August 9th, 2010 at 1:06 am and is filed under Health and Wellness, Media and Mental Health. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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