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Earlier in the year, I chose pause as my word for 2016. By reflecting on these five letters, I’ve considered the ways I don’t pause, especially when emotions, circumstances or situations unravel with difficulty. When there is no threat, it is easy to pause – taking a few minutes to write in my journal, gazing up at the sky or meditating a few minutes in the evening.

Pausing requires conscious effort and discipline. It means saying no to the inessential, identifying what doesn’t fit in my life and allowing simplicity, instead of overthinking to set the cadence of my days. In the last few months, I’ve paused to consider what truly fulfills me. In my office, an Annie Dillard quote reminds me of these important words,”How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” I’ve reflected on this quote several times, especially in midlife. In my forties, I often think more years are behind me than ahead. It’s a sobering epiphany banging against this truth. Intersecting with this thought and the word, pause, offers a concrete way to pave the intentions and actions of my days.

I’ve defined what is important and absolutely nonnegotiable in my life. For my mental clarity, I must exercise. Although I run or take classes for my health, I also move my limbs because I recognize the privilege of having the ability to do so. I try to exercise several times a week. The days when I am unable to run or squeeze in a workout, my mental state suffers. I’ve learned not to underestimate that endorphins help fuel good energy. An hour before a run, I might feel irritable, resisting the need to slip on my tennis shoes, but after I wind the corner toward my home, I breathe a sigh of relief. I never regret moving my body and I’ve learned it is the quickest way to feel good about myself.

Another must for me? I must read, write or do both. Every single day. Even on days where I feel like a complete fraud, I still write. Because writers – they write and read. Whether it is freelancing for a client, writing a blog post or massaging words for an essay or my manuscript, I am doing a better job at protecting my writing time. This isn’t always easy, but I have such a physical and sense of piercing regret on the days I fail to write – even if I only manage to pen a single sentence, it eases the tension.

The other must? I relish spending time with my family. This includes shuffling my daughter to tennis and watching her play. It also means concentrating on her development and cultivating her interests. It is an unwritten pact my husband and I’ve made in raising our daughter. We feel an overriding sense of fulfillment when she witnesses an idea for the first time or stumbles on a discovery. This past weekend, my husband decided to humor my daughter’s baking interest. They decided to make macaroons from the famous Bouchon Bakery book. I loved watching the two of them measure out the ingredients, stare as the macaroons formed in just the way they should and the shared glee of all of us, biting into one of these goodies, surprised they tasted so lovely. It is a moment, I suspect, with staying power.

Pausing means paying attention, a mantra I’ve adopted since my father’s passing. I’ve talked often about my occupation of time, the joy, the sorrow, the space between the pauses and the sheer heartbreak and breathtaking happiness it offers. But it’s how every single moment lays at our feet, asking us, what now?

I pause for what means the most.

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