“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lays our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.”- Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Most of us living in this 21st century have a very strange relationship with time. We know what time is, of course, but it’s helpful to consider its working definition: “Time is a measure in which events can be ordered from the past through the present into the future, and also measure the durations between events and the intervals between them.” Conceptually, we know that there are gaps between moments in time, or at least there appears to be. Being able to utilize these micro-moments that occur could very well be the difference between a fulfilling and happy life and one of misery and poor choices.
As we all know too well, life tends to come at us very quickly. The more caught up in life we become, the more we are likely to find ourselves getting caught up in a rhythm and flow that life is handing us, often responding to events more quickly, and with less thought than we would like. Wouldn’t it be great if we could slow things down a bit and make decisions coming from a place of a little more thought and a little more awareness? Don’t you sometimes just wish that you could “stop the tape” and pause before making an important decision or taking an action, giving yourself a little time to do the right thing?
In theater, movies, and drama there are a number of literary devices in which the characters do just that. Some of these devices are the soliloquy, the aside, or the fourth wall. In each of these a character will pause, turn to the audience and discuss to themselves, our loud, what they are thinking, what actions they plan on taking, and why. This literary device has been used by playwright William Shakespeare, comedians Bob Hope and Woody Allen, and others as a way of engaging the audience in the deeper aspects of what a character is struggling with. Typically, a character will stop for a few moments, do some thinking out loud, and then return to the action and follow through with a better thought out course of action. Too bad we couldn’t do the same thing in their own lives. Or can we?
Victor Frankl, mentioned in the quote that started this article, was a Viennese psychiatrist who survived concentration camp life during the Second World War. One of the ways that he survived was through separating himself from the horrors in front of him by asking himself questions, pausing to see the larger picture, thereby detaching himself from impulsive thoughts and poorly thought-out actions. He not only chose more prudent behaviors, but he also consciously chose how he thought-and therefore felt-about what he was experiencing. He learned that pausing to ponder and consider how he consciously and carefully chose to process and think about these events made all the difference in the world and how he experienced his world. He learned that he could not only survive concentration camp life, but even thrive in some spiritual ways, as his process allowed him to find meaning and his struggle. (His story is available here as a free download: http://www.anderson5.net/cms/lib02/SC01001931/Centricity/Domain/222/man-s-search-for-meaning.pdf)
Tara Brach, a psychologist and teacher of Buddhist meditation, speaks often of what she refers to as the “Sacred Pause,” a conscious moment where we stop, breathe, and attempt to decide how we are feeling in that given moment. It is a moment where one consciously seeks to find that “space” that Victor Frankl referred to. Finding this space is an acquired skill, but the good news is the busier you are, and the faster paced your life is, the more opportunities you will have to find this sacred space.
Brach suggests that you find time when you are engaged in an active, goal oriented, activity, one where you are likely to get caught up in the moment, such as reading, working on the computer, writing, or engaging in some physical activity. Explore pausing, breathing deeply and noticing what’s going on for you in that moment. Take a few, measured, deep breaths and with each exhale let go of any worries or concerns about what you are going to do next. Allow your body to relax, letting go of any tightness that you may be carrying at that moment. Brach says to “notice what you are experiencing as you inhabit the pause. What sensations are you aware of in your body? Do you feel anxious or restless as you try to step out of your mental stories? Do you feel pulled to resume your activity? Can you simply allow, for this moment, whatever is happening inside you?” Most of us are constantly engaging in a self dialogue, telling us stories that may or may not be true. Noticing what’s going on physically at the moment of the sacred pause will enable us to stop those stories and simply sit with the feeling that exists, rather than create feelings from some internal dialogue.
There are many ways that one can learn to recognize and utilize the gap between stimulus and response. A daily meditation practice is perhaps the best one of them. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate or complicated process, but it does have to be a consistent one practiced a few moments each day. Practicing of the sacred pause can become a meditation practice in and of itself. There is a simple awareness of breath meditation that I teach to many of my clients that they find highly effective which I am sharing here: http://mindbodycoach.org/breathing-101-improving-lifes-basic-activity/ and here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iypetAkg_pY
The daily meditation practice is an acquired skill, but if done briefly a few times each day one can recognize its potential. Utilizing meditation in order to identify the sacred pause is an acquired skill, but its benefits can be recognized immediately if accompanied by correct breathing. One of my clients, who has been practicing this skill daily, recently said to me, “It’s almost like time slows down. I have more time to make decisions. It seems like a long time that I pause, but it’s really not. It’s not even three seconds. I think it through and make a better decision.”
Start utilizing this brief moment in your life immediately. Try to identify this sacred pause when you are enjoying yourself in an activity that you love, doing something that is stressful, absorbed in something-anything that you find yourself getting caught up in. STOP, BREATHE, and NOTICE what you are experiencing in a non-judgmental way. Savor the feeling for a few moments, becoming aware of what is going on and how you are physically and emotionally experiencing that space in time. If it’s something noncritical or enjoyable, go back to it when you are ready. If it is something that is stressful or more crucial to your life, take a little more time in that sacred space. Over time you will develop a rational detachment which will allow you to enjoy some things more and allow you to make better decisions with others. In either case, time will appear to be a little bit slower, giving you a greater capacity to act in a way that you will be more comfortable with.
Start learning to recognize this sacred space between stimulus and response. Learn to utilize the sacred pause and learn to recognize what is really going on, as opposed to what you think is going, on or perhaps that which you are not even noticing. Increased awareness, and decreased stress can only be a good thing.
“LSD stands out for learning to slow down.”- Santosh Kalwar
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