I recently visited the Zen Garden at the Chicago Botanic Gardens, and found it a profoundly calming experience. Like many of us, I find myself bouncing around from activity to activity during the day; and my mind is usually even more frantic as it works on what I need to do in the future, what I’ve done in the past, and, oh yeah, tries to pay attention to what I’m doing right now. For the few moments I was surrounded by the quiet in the Zen Garden, I could almost feel the cogs in my mind slowing down. My breathing became deeper and more relaxed. I was peaceful and felt a sense of clarity that is often elusive.
It’s hard to find that peacefulness on a day-to-day basis as we’re surrounded by deadlines and meetings and emails and traffic and the busyness of life. Which is unfortunate because I’ve found that for the clients I work with, and for myself personally, that when we get overwhelmed and rushed we lose our effectiveness. When we feel we have to react to everything that life throws at us, we do just that: react. Our responses aren’t measured, aren’t thought-out, and often aren’t in line with our highest goals. Instead of directing the course of our lives, we’re getting thrown around in different directions by what our day brings to us.
This is why most time management practices don’t seem to work. They are usually more concerned with cramming more work into smaller chunks of time. Even time strategies that deal with prioritization usually end up failing; because what should you do when you get a call or email that you have to respond to that isn’t in line with your priorities?
One idea that has worked for me is the idea of getting out of reaction altogether. The less I react in the moment, the more options I have available to me, and the more likely I am to choose a beneficial path. You need a tool that gets you out of the reaction – and the mindful pause is one of the best ways to do that.
The peace I felt at the Zen Garden was a perfect state of mind for making decisions about what to do next. But most of us don’t have one in our backyard to go to a few times a day, so how can we create that pause in our lives? We can’t make the world stop, but we can make ourselves stop for a moment. The Zen Garden showed me a brief glimpse of the stillness I could bring to my days, if I remembered to pause. So even though you can’t change the hectic nature of your environment, here’s a pause button you can use whenever you need. And when you are in that pause, find the wisdom to take the next step based on your highest good, not the pressures of the world.