We’ve been living through a pandemic for more than a year. I don’t know about you, but ever since mid-March of last year, motivation has been near impossible to muster up, but self-care has felt more important than ever. Which presents a problem for me because, well, it’s hard to motivate myself to engage in the self-care I so desperately need, dammit. So this past October, as we slid into another month of increasing Covid cases, socially distanced hangouts with people we wished to hug but couldn’t even touch, and countless hours spent on Zoom, I decided to curate a project for myself.
Here where I live in Oregon, cases started increasing exponentially in late fall of 2020. In an effort to curb this increase the governor mandated a statewide “pause,” and we were asked to limit all social activity more strictly and intentionally. So I thought, hey — how about I use this as a time to turn inward and focus on a few things that bring me joy and self-care? I decided to mirror the structure of the governor’s “pause,” which was to be four weeks, and choose one topic to dive into each week. Each week I used different resources and kept updates and progress reports up on my Instagram. Missing my people as much as I have been, I was hoping to do some community building and connecting through this period of self exploration.
I called this project The Pause Project.
Here are the rules I set for myself:
No working on any other projects during a given week except that week’s focus.
Only consume books and media that have to do with that week’s topic.
(The reason for rules 1 and 2 is that it can be really hard for me to focus on one thing at a time. Instead, I end up moving from thing to thing, and then get overwhelmed, and ultimately don’t accomplish anything and then fall into a pit of despair and shame. Surely, you know the feeling.)
Other things I was allowed to do each week: paid work cause I gotta pay the bills, exercise, and meditation. All other free time was spent on my weekly project.
I wrapped up the last bit of my project in mid-December, and what I found in my month-long study of joy and self-care was eye opening and so much more than I expected. I’ve reconnected with my creativity, made new friends, cared for myself, and found connection through sharing the highs and lows of this process.
I have put together this how-to guide for anyone who wants to try a pause project themselves, with some tips and ideas, as well as more in-depth information about my process.
The Pause Project: Week One
During my first week I focused on self pleasure (read: mastrubation) and holding gentle space for my sexual trauma. I dedicated time every day to being with my body in curiosity and seeing where I could find healing in exploring pleasure. In spending so much time with my body I learned it’s important for me to take breaks after periods of sensation. Allowing my body to incorporate feelings of pleasure in conjunction with the safety of rest allows me to move through points of trauma. I learned that to heal my sexual relationship with myself I use periods of energy as well as the sacred pause.
The Pause Project: Week Two
During my second week I focused on memoir writing and started the week with lofty goals of writing for three hours a day. Um, who do I think I am?! Part of the reason that I chose writing as a focus in the first place is because, even though I love it, writing scares me. A few days in of trying to write but getting nowhere, it became clear to me that I had set an unrealistic goal. I needed to start slow and take it easy on myself. A friend of mine recommended I set a timer for 25 minutes of writing. So I tried it and learned that small bits of progress still felt like huge wins, and any amount of creative flow was beneficial, even if it seemed minor.
The Pause Project: Week Three
Week three was perhaps the week I dreaded most because I was to focus on art, specifically oil painting. I studied painting in high school and college, and it had been something I loved and identified with; I considered myself an artist. But studying art in school and equating grades with creativity depleted my passion and drive, replacing this love with suffocating self doubt. I haven’t painted in the decade since I graduated, and sadly I stopped identifying as an artist somewhere along the way too.
To start the week, I did an IG live and talked candidly about the pain of losing my art practice and my fears around not being “good enough.” This IG live led to so many talks with so many of my friends who have felt the same way, and I started to feel less alone in the fear and sadness. I was able to see that the only person I need to believe in my art practice is myself — not my teachers, not my parents — and I started to slowly reclaim my identification as an artist. I get to call myself an artist if it feels true for me. I set up my neglected easel, started a small oil painting, and felt myself standing in my power in ways I haven’t been able to do in years.
The Pause Project: Week Four
In the last week of this project I worked on some of the steps needed to start my own business. I have been doing business coaching and consulting for a few years, but haven’t been super organized about it. I don’t have a website, or really a business name, and I have questions about how to show up in work, and how to articulate my offerings. For this week I interviewed a few friends on how they started their businesses, gained a better understanding of how I want to show up in my work and how I can feel integrated in the ways that I make money, and started writing up a website map.
How You Can Create Your Own Pause Project
Now that we are moving into spring time in a new year, trying to figure out how to make sense of our lives a year into everything this pandemic has meant, consider giving a project like this a try. Lean into giving yourself permission for slowness, joy, and creativity, however works best for you.
Here are some steps to take if you would like to curate a project like this for yourself:
This project can be any length of time. Maybe you focus on a passion project during the weekends, or the last week of each month until summer. Whatever length of time you choose, make it sustainable and realistic to you and the reality of your world. Make it accessible so that you feel you can really commit without taking away from responsibilities that are non negotiable.
Once you’ve decided on a length of time, start picking topics that you’d like to focus on. This can be a time to try something completely new that you’ve always been interested in, or picking something up that you’ve long neglected.
If you would like a community or social component, consider sharing your progress on social media or creating a Zoom group with friends where you get together and have a virtual “knitting circle.” Having a shared component can help with accountability and connection.
Research what kinds of resources and materials you’d like to use and get them lined up before you jump into your projects. The idea is to give yourself everything you need — time, tools, permission — to feel into the experience of having this time for yourself. So check out that book you need from the library, or get to the crafting store before you start so that you don’t need to take time away from your project.
Come up with an outline of how long you want to do this for and if there are any goals you have in mind. It can be helpful to have a plan written out before getting underway.
For me, The Pause Project is about gentleness, self-care, and connection. If you find yourself wanting to engage further in this practice, I also run and facilitate a workshop called The Pause Project Workshop, which is an offering of support, structure, and community through this process. Follow me on instagram @sister_sundown for more information on upcoming workshops and how to sign up.
So there you have it: how I spent a month of 2020 focusing on a project that was based in joy and self-care, some of the things I got from it, and a few steps you can take yourself if you want to try out a pause project of your own. I think the most important thing to keep in mind is that this is time you get to spend taking care of yourself, and that can look a million different ways; it’s all valid and all welcomed as part of the project and your process. Giving myself permission to slow down and do things that feel good and engaging has felt healing. Joy is always necessary, and anywhere you can find it right now is worth grabbing hold of and getting the most out of it.
And you want to know the biggest lesson of all that I learned from this project? Joy is self generative and makes me feel more energized and available for all the parts of my life.