Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Q28: Why do I go blank – just when something matters?

Pausing is what our systems do because they're alive to a complicated set of circumstances that we call 'now'. It's what happens when we find our normally intelligible words and sentences turn into unexpected umm's and er's; or even grind to a halt completely as we go blank. But this is neither daft nor decorative ....

The revolutionary pause [1]
Our (possibly) embarrassing slurs and stutters are our body's natural mechanism for sorting out confusion. In fact, the body is not confused. It's entirely clear that there's more going on. Indeed, this 'more' is so essential to the next step that it won't let us go until we've given it the time and attention it needs. 

Pausing successfully is a subtle skill. A pause is an unclear zone. Everything inside it feels (and is!) fuzzy and unformed. Under pressure, that can feel scary. Have you ever felt embarrassed or panicked when you don't know what to say? Perhaps you froze over entirely, or went the other way, and started gabbling furiously to fill in the gap? This is one way in which we lose connection with ourselves, our situation, and other people.

So the best thing to do if you suddenly find yourself  'on pause' is to make virtue of necessity. This can turn everything around - It's revolutionary:
  • Pause (intentionally!)

Being clear you're not clear (a 'felt sense')
When you pause intentionally, it's unlikely you'll feel clear straight away, of course. Thoughts and feelings take time to form.

Let's say you forget something as you leave the house. You know this because you have a clear sense there is something you have forgotten (you hold it in your body, perhaps a vague tension, a tightness, an odd 'unfinished' feeling ...). You know clearly that it's about forgetting something; but the rest is still unclear. If somebody prompted you - 'Did you feed the cat?', 'Did you remember to phone your mum?' - you would know straight away, 'Yes, of course I did! That's not it at all!' You are clear what it's not. Even in those 'fuzzy' zones, you are remarkably precise. And after a pause, you suddenly remember what it was... 'Ahh! It's THAT!' The tension slips away, and you're free to work out what happens next.

Older - or wiser?
There's such an emphasis on having the 'right answer', on knowing precisely what to say or do next, that we often skim the surface of our felt sense. We lose out on the riches which spring from our deeper understanding. So next time your words don't come quickly enough for you, try not to criticise yourself. Your inner world is giving you the chance to process what it needs without your interference. It's a built-in safety measure. The more pressure you put on yourself to know what you feel, the more likely you are to 'go blank'. You can only ever go 'at the pace of your slowest parts'. [2]

Some people find they go blank more often as they get older. But, who knows, perhaps it's because they're wiser! There's more inside to process. Similarly, when we're tired, what lies below the surface is nearer the surface, and so more able to catch our attention. That's why it's hard to concentrate if we're ruffled or upset. Our systems will always look for ways to give expression to what needs to be heard, or wants resolution.

Your body is slowing you down for a reason. It's asking you to take a step back and get a fresh take on things. Only once you've done this can you know what to say or do next.

Pause! (Practice going blank!)
You might like to explore what it's like to be clear that you're unclear. This practice helps you to acknowledge the 'more' always present in your experience.

1. Notice an unclear sense, such as something which comes to you unbidden, or difficult to explain, for example:
  • an unbidden 'umm ...' or 'er ....'
  • an unexpected burst of good humour or sudden surge of grumpiness
  • an echo of a dream
2. Allow space for any unclear sense that your experience holds - something more, that you cannot put into words.

3.  Notice the unclear sense just as it is. Greet it with a 'Yes - this is what is there; this is how it feels.'

4.  Finish pausing - and review what happened.

  • Try to put aside familiar theories or criticisms, such as 'I'm always grumpy in the mornings!', 'I get over-stressed!'
  • Don't try to change what you feel; especially don't try to 'improve' it, such as consciously relaxing your shoulders or deciding to breathe more deeply - if you consciously change it, you lose the sense of 'more'.
  • Make space for it just as it is, now.

by Elizabeth English
(With thanks to Peter Kuklis)

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[1] The 'revolutionary pause' was a phrase coined by Mary Hendrix. See 'Focusing as a Force for Peace: The Revolutionary Pause' Keynote Address to the Fifteenth Focusing International Conference 2003 in Germany. By Mary Hendricks-Gendlin, Ph.D., Director, The Focusing Institute. Online reference: Focusing as a Force for Peace: The Revolutionary Pause. [Back]
[2] A phrase I've borrowed from Ann Weiser Cornell. [Back]

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