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, and 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. Not only do stored emotions create the pressure that lies beneath a sudden verbal outburst, they cause the urgency behind rash decision. They are the constriction that leads to sudden backaches, and 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. There are countless moments in each day that could serve as doorways to the serene and tranquil. While our momentum and stories of what must be accomplished might have us fly past these outlets, they are there. Opportunities present themselves during an early shower, the commute to work, a walk to pick up lunch, in the moments before a conversation or on 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. In these moments we can 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 by asking a few questions: Is our mind spacious or claustrophobic? Are we so caught up in routines that we've lost track of sounds and smell, and the 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, and it’s nowhere near as important as it appears while we're caught up in it. Time’s always passing and leading to a time in life where it will no longer matter.