The Art of the Pause

12:12 PM

I am more than a little red faced as I share this true story from my recent travels to Puerto Vallarta during which I morphed into a pool of frothing entitlement, alienating myself from fellow travelers as I clawed my way to an unnecessary front-of-the-line position.

I really do try to be a nice person.

More to the point, I hope to grow spiritually and become more aware of of the influence I have on the planet, and on others. I often wonder, what will be my legacy?

A current tool I am working with is something I refer to as the art of the pause, and although I know that there is a lot of philosophical discovery floating out there on the interweb, I didn't read this on someone else's blog although I have found the term literally all over the place online since starting this post; this concept came to me in a daily journal. I was recently reflecting on an impulsive quality woven into my personality (my Mama will back me up on this one!) and as it has created some occasional turbulence, I decided that I would practice an impossible 30 seconds of breathing and just...pause...before reacting to a trigger, whatever may push my buttons. That window of time, that moment, affords me the opportunity to make a choice, to think and then act, rather than act and then think, forcing myself to later lament a dumb decision.

In this case, this act-then-think incident took place while boarding the plane on my return home to Denver after a perfectly wonderful vacation with my husband Aaron. We had very desirable flights coming and going this year, early enough upon arriving in Mexico to put on bathing suits and run around on the beach before our travel day had concluded with a stunning but typical sundown. As we prepared to reluctantly leave the country and return home to Colorado a week later, we enjoyed a pretty full day at the beach before catching a cab at 2:30. That was the plan, anyway.

Not one to jam a lot in on a travel day, I prefer to get ready and wait; this travel style, however, has very little appeal for my husband who is most content when jamming the maximum productivity into his days, including vacation days.

Typically, Aaron gets a bit backed up in the evening when enjoying our Paradise Village vacations. He wants those last few minutes of reading. He also wants to squeeze in the sunset walk, the hour at the spa in a steam room and shower, and a lovely dinner. All of these together make for a busily luxurious routine at Aaron's end-of-day, but this pattern caused a bit of a traffic jam as we were leaving PV this last Saturday afternoon.

Not messing around, I was dressed and waiting in the lobby an hour before we were to leave. This largely had to do with a craving for coffee, a welcome boost to get me through the travel push that would include cab rides and customs. I thought I would have a latte and read a bit, and we would still have plenty of time to grab a bite to eat at the airport, which we usually squeeze in as planes don't serve real food anymore, just chips and over-priced jerky.

Our 2:30 pm meeting time came and went, and when Aaron arrived after steaming and showering that one-last-time, it was 10 minutes to 3:00, and we were already cramped for a 4:15 flight. Oddly, there had been a bit of a hangup at the spa and he still had to go back to present an ID which would slow us down even more. I was quickly losing my ability to "be a nice person."

I tried to relax in the cab, but I was feeling the stress (and carrying a bit extra as Aaron didn't seem to be carrying any of his own.) How does he manage?

He finally felt a little squeezed when we arrived at the airlines only to be informed that we were too late to check our bags; fortunately, our slightly disgruntled airline servicewoman harumphed her way through a 3-minute-late check in, but not without communicating that this was in no way ok. Bag checked, boarding passes and passports in hand, we started to run.

There would be no coffee or food for the next three hours on our flight, and therefore, no lunch or dinner. We ran the fairly long yardage to the terminal where, finally, we would spot our airline to the sounds of urgent announcements that our flight was in its final boarding. At the gate, we got to the back of the line to wait our turn. All of this time, I hadn't said a word to my sweet husband. I was talking to him in my head, but not very nicely. Frankly, I was pissed; this was not the experience I wanted to be having.

It was in this state that I noticed that the gate attendants were announcing the boarding call for Zone 4 passengers, and I thought, Uh-oh! We were supposed to board with the people who had Zone 2 boarding passes!

Forgetting all about the art of the pause, I left Aaron in the dust, and ran to the front of the line.

I lifted my boarding pass up to show the attendant, urgently claiming, "I was supposed to board with Zone 2!" 

He looked awkwardly at the people who had been waiting in line for the Zone 4 announcement, but reluctantly motioned me forward. Clearly, the folks at the front of the line were none too happy.

The blond, recently tanned couple reminded me that we already had assigned seats for this flight, so "it really doesn't matter."

Well, it apparently mattered to me.

Nothing had gone the way I had expected so far on this outing today, so I had high hopes at this point to join my earlier boarding Zone 2 crew. I had, after all, logged into my computer last night in order to get on the plane as quickly as we could to avoid waiting in this long line (with everyone else.)

As if I was some other loud-mouthed woman, I heard myself say, "We were supposed to board already, and he, pointing at the flight attendant, said I could go." 

I heard the aggravated but restrained female traveler say, "Be our guest. Go right ahead."I sensed their critical gazes burning like a heat lamp directed at the back of my head as I boarded the plane. I remember thinking, "what are they so mad about?" as I located my seat and settled down. Aaron eventually made his way to the seat next to mine, and I took a chance, asking him what he thought about the kerfuffle at the front of the line.

He had the gaul to suggest that it had been inappropriate of me to shove into the line in front of that couple. Oddly, I wasn't upset with him; truthfully, I already knew, although not in time to stop myself from being the jerk that butted into the front of the line on a technicality. What on earth had brought me to this moment?

I want to start by saying that even though I try to be a nice person, I can still be selfish. Clearly, I had expectations at the start of the day that included Aaron being on time, opening up room in the schedule for the little comforts I feel entitled to when I travel. Expectations and entitlement are yellow flags...if you want to be a nice person.

Looking back from a safe distance, which is a good spot from which to gain some perspective, I am remembering why I first started practicing the art of the pause.

Clearly, acting on impulse breeds an environment where bad decisions can thrive, where the few seconds it takes to respond and not react are tougher to come by. What might have been my assessment had I stopped to think in that moment, to ask myself do I really need to board faster than the 4s? What difference will it make? How might my decision to butt in affect the others in the line? Will this act build a bridge between me and the other human beings around me right now, or will it create unnecessary tension?

I have, in any given moment, the potential for kind awareness of others, as well as the potential to be a drooling blob of selfish me-centered grabbiness. Leaving out those few seconds to assess the negative impulse, read the room, and check in with my own heart on the matter allowed me to trip and stumble into a really embarrassing plane ride and, BTW, an awkward airport shuttle to our car during which I managed to also talk myself out of making a sincere apology to the poor couple I elbowed out of the way. I missed that chance.

But I can still allow myself to learn what I can about my potential for being "that woman," and about how the moments of that day stacked up to create a memory I would exchange for a different one if I still could. I guess for now, I 'll have to settle for the lesson, and keep an eye out for similar opportunities to practice the art of the pause.

                                                    Copyright © 2017 Laury Boone Browning


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