Taking a Break from the Game

A busy life can be experienced as an addictive video game, comprising the twisty route from a morning coffee to the time we return home and close the door on the world and its demands. The circuit is strewn with pleasant opportunities—friendly conversations—which we navigate toward, and unpleasant roadblocks—impossible characters with impractical deadlines—which we try to avoid. Caught up in the game, our frustrations and disappointments are stifled so we can keep moving. We lose track of how these blocked emotions translate into stress carried in the body; our external fixation and continual thoughts relegate the body to the corners of awareness; the tension that lies beneath our attention spans often remains unnoticed.

Yet these physically stored emotions play a greater role in the course of our days than we expect: they create the pressure that lies beneath a sudden verbal outburst; the urgency behind the rash decision; the constriction that leads to sudden backaches; the tightness and strain that fuels addictive behaviors, such as binge shopping and compulsive eating.

The stress we carry with us through our days can feel like a heavy burden that can only be released on vacations or during long weekends, but this is not the case. In our routes through each day there are countless moments that could serve as doorways to the serene and tranquil. And while our momentum and stories of what must be accomplished might have us fly past these outlets, they are there: during the early shower and commute to the walk to pick up lunch, amidst the moments before a conversation or fresh errand, in the course of a break to get some fresh air.

These interludes are analogous to the "power-ups" in video games that don't add points to one's score, but offer revived abilities that allow us to get through the race. A time out provides us with an opportunity to release the tension that makes the game so difficult to navigate: we check in with the stomach and shoulders, the jaw and forehead, surveying the body and discerning what needs to be softened. We can visit the breath and note if the exhalations are being cut short, a sure sign of busyness and agitation; simply extending the length of an out breath presents a major shortcut to inner ease. We can even become aware of the mind outside of its thoughts: is it spacious or claustrophobic? Are we so caught up in routines that we've lost track of sounds and smell, contact sensations with the chair and floor beneath us?

It's tempting to dismiss this break for an inner reprieve as a lesser priority than getting through the game, scoring points via people pleasing and monetary gain. After all, we've been conditioned to achieve and accumulate. But in turning inwards we can open the door not only to greater ease, but also to a fresh perspective: the game is only a game; time is passing and leading to a time in life where it will no longer matter; its nowhere near as important as it appears while we're caught up in it.