Doing nothing—that’s right, nothing at all—could be the key to enhanced clarity, better decision-making, and more peaceful relationships.
At least, that’s what Paula Mallis believes. The Los Angeles-based meditation guide, doula, and women’s circle facilitator firmly believes that taking regular pauses in life can be utterly game-changing. But despite the fact that pausing costs nothing and requires no special skills, most of us don’t nearly do it often enough—if ever.
Blame it on the cult of being busy. “The world we live in now is so fast-paced, especially for those of us who live in cities like Los Angeles and New York,” explains Mallis. “It takes a lot of courage to slow down. But we’re really just robbing ourselves of these really amazing opportunities to tap into our inner wisdom by not pausing.”
We live in a culture that favors constant action—which leave us little space to actually think about what we’re doing and where we’re headed.
Indeed, we live in a culture that favors constant action. There’s an unspoken expectation that we should reply to e-mails and texts instantly and pack our schedules with meetings, brunches, and workout dates—which leave us little space to actually think about what we’re doing and where we’re headed.
But Mallis insists it’s when we’re busiest that the pause is most valuable. (She’s so passionate about it, in fact, that she’s opening an LA studio in January called WMN Space that will allow women to take time out for circles, breathwork, facials, and other sorts of self-care.) “When we’re in a place of chaos, it’s hard to have a lot of clarity,” she reasons. “So the pause can be a tool to connect within and then move forward from [a centered] place.”
So what does a productive pause look like, and how do you tell the difference between mindfully slowing down and plain old procrastinating?
Keep reading for Mallis’ advice on mastering the art of pausing.
Why should I pause?
There are lots of reasons why someone would want to take five from a situation, Mallis says, and what that break looks like totally depends on the scenario.
“A pause can be helpful if we’re caught in some type of decision-making, whether it’s a job opportunity or choosing whether to stay in a relationship,” she says. “It’s also useful if you’re in the process of finding your purpose and you need clarity on what might help bring that forward.” Mallis adds that pausing is also a key part of the manifestation process—you set an intention, and then you wait. And if you’re having a heated conversation and feeling reactive, it’s crucial to take a step back.
It’s also something you can do during less turbulent times; a way of cultivating a sense of peace while powering through your to-do list. “Pausing has become part of my daily ritual,” says Mallis. “A lot of times, it’s just sitting in my car before picking my daughter up from school so I can be fully present for her, my husband, or a client.”
Some pauses need only be a few minutes long, says Mallis, while others can last a year or more (say, if you’re taking time off from a job to reprioritize). But the most important thing to do is commit. “A pause can be an uncomfortable place to be because it’s not filled with any distraction or busyness,” says Mallis. “I think if we can get more comfortable with being in the pause, it can become…really nourishing.”
So, wait…I’m really supposed to do nothing?
To be clear, pausing isn’t about sitting and staring into space—there are some things you can do to make your rest break productive, Mallis says.
Mindful breathing is one of her favorite techniques for getting grounded during a slowdown. “Slowly inhale with an intention, and then exhale the thoughts, ways of being, or limiting beliefs that no longer serve you,” she explains. “Then continue that rhythm to bring you back to center.”
And sometimes, says Mallis, a little bit of action in a pause can be a good thing. “Let’s say you’re in a conversation with someone that’s really challenging and there’s action that needs to be taken,” she says. “You’d pause from what’s challenging, but take action to release emotions through working out, journaling, meditating, screaming into a pillow—whatever it is you need to do. Once you go back to the conversation, you’re coming from a more neutral place where you can share your truth.” Boxing class, anyone?
Pausing vs. procrastinating
One major caveat: There’s a big difference between mindfully pausing, and not taking action out of fear.
For those who are majorly tuned in to their intuition, the difference is easy enough to figure out. But Mallis says that when you’re first starting out, it’s important to listen to what your body is saying—and that physical symptoms like anxiety, heart palpitations, and migraines are signs that you’re not on the right track. “If anything, the pause should be empowering; a moment we take to go within for strength. And from that place of being empowered, we can move forward onto the next thing.”
Although stepping back and taking time to breathe seem simple, Mallis believes if everyone were to do these things, we’d see some pretty profound shifts in the way we operate as a society.
“What would happen if we all just took a pause?” she asks. “If we all connected back to our hearts and the truth of who we are, which is love, [the world] would look a lot different,” she proclaims. Bet you’re looking at your daily golden latte break in a totally different way now, right?