Susan Steen

Susan Steen

“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.” ― Ansel Adams

Not wanting to miss the next scene in the show we were watching, I asked my husband to press pause when I left the room. When I returned, he pressed the play button, and the show picked up right where it left off.

It’s great to have a remote control with so many great buttons. Another favorite is the mute button. The commercials are so much louder than the shows, and it’s really pleasant to mute them and sit in silence for a minute.

And, of course, my very favorite button on the remote control is the power button. I’m not a big fan of television, and being able to clear the view and quiet the room with one single button is pretty amazing. I feel a bit like Adams — the words work until they don’t, the screen without sound works until that isn’t adequate either, until finally I am most content with the silence.

It carries over into life, too, I believe. It isn’t as easy as having a remote control with dedicated buttons, but the options are here for us, nonetheless: Pause/Play, Mute, Off/On.

There are several times a pause button would come in mighty handy during a day. When someone challenges an opinion ever so haughtily, it would be good to pause before reacting. When someone cuts you off in traffic, or in the grocery line, it would be great to pause before reacting. In fact, maybe if we hit the pause button, we won’t react at all. Maybe we will respond, a much different thing.

Of course, sometimes it would be nice to press pause and savor the moment before us because it’s so wonderful — when everything seems to be going just right in our job or our relationships, or treasuring the moments of a small child’s joy or the last moments of someone’s time with us. Oh, to have a remote control.

Maybe it isn’t the pause you’re seeking, but the mute. Life gets pretty loud sometimes, and when it feels as if our joy is being drowned out by the noisiness of the world, the mute button would be a welcome friend. And when pause and mute don’t do the trick, you might just want to hit the power button. The truth is, it seems, we do have a remote control, but I’ll venture to guess many of us haven’t found the manual that tells us how those buttons work.

Here’s my thinking: If my words or actions will cause others to want to push the mute button, it’s the perfect time for me to press pause and take a look at what is driving me to say or do certain things. If we’ve learned anything since the advent of social media, I hope we’ve learned there is a real need for a remote control in our lives. What you might have said under your breath once upon a time you are suddenly saying where everyone can hear you, and by you, I also mean me.

Here is the condensed version of the instruction manual. Of course, you have to read and follow instructions, something many of us bypass, thinking we can figure it out on our own.

Step One, Stop

Step Two, Breathe

Step Three, Walk

Step Four, Write

Step Five, Push Play

When you press pause, you are stopping the action you were about to take — yelling, crying, insulting, jumping to a conclusion, or even agreeing to someone’s invitation. You are going to want to practice this many times because it won’t come naturally to you.

Once you’ve stopped yourself from whatever you were about to say or do, you can breathe. Never underestimate the power of a little oxygen to the brain and a full extension of your diaphragm. I talk about the importance of breathing a lot, and it’s because it offers so many physical and mental benefits. Please don’t skip this step.

The other person might not have noticed that you stopped, might not have realized you were intentionally taking some breaths, but they might notice when you walk away. I’m not suggesting that you completely walk away from the situation but that you take a walk to think before you speak —whether to condemn someone or to agree to do something. This isn’t you storming away in a dramatic exit. This is you excusing yourself (out loud, if necessary) from the situation.

If excusing yourself means walking to the bathroom, try keeping pen and paper in there. Wherever you walk, walk to a pad of paper, an index card, or a journal. Write down what you’re thinking before you say something you might regret later.

Philosophers, poets, and presidents have taught us the value of journaling thoughts, whether to preserve or simply to work through them. I think it’s kind of like the difference between trying to do a big math problem in my head versus working it out on paper.

Once you’ve put your thoughts on paper instead of leaving the figuring to the voices in your head, you’ll be ready to take another breath, walk back into the room, and press play. Maybe you’ll still agree to the project, but you’ll know why you are saying yes. Or maybe you’ll still tell someone what you think about what they had said or done that caused you to need to press pause, but probably in a more civil and thoughtful way. Chances are you might decide to just fast forward and treat what they had said as if it were a commercial break.

It’s possible you’ll be a little irritated with me when the first opportunity to press pause this week presents itself, but give it a try. When you’ve given a situation your best effort, when the words aren’t working and things aren’t clear, press pause and be grateful for the intentional silence that just might create the loveliest image of all.

Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others.

Recommended for you