“There is a gap or a space between stimulus and response, and the key to both our growth and happiness is how we use that space.” ~ Stephen R. Covey
We all know the contrast that exists between what we are and what we aspire to become; between the self we know when we are alone and connected with our own soul and the self we manage to express in our daily interactions with an unruly and challenging world. All the problems we experience at a personal level, from stress to interpersonal conflict, arise from that difference.
What is often less known is the way to bridge this gap. Most people throw themselves into action in the hope they will quickly inhabit the better self they want to become; others teach themselves to find comfort within the limits of their own feelings of inadequacy and abandon all attempt for personal improvement. Neither of those two options works. What does then? Pause and reconnect to ‘being’. Come back to your ‘self’ right here, right now. The attitudes and actions that will take you to tomorrow are performed in the here and now. They stem from your ‘self’: you are the one who carries them out and you do this by either default or by choice.
You live by default when you work on automatic; when you think without being aware that you are thinking, when you ignore your feelings and do not take time to observe or listen before you react. You live by choice when you live consciously; when you can ‘see’ what you think, when you are in tune with your feelings and when you take the time you need to understand and evaluate things before deciding for a course of action.
When you live by default, your decisions do not belong to you. They are your family’s, your education’s, your culture’s or your past’s. This implies that the consequences of those decisions also do not belong to you. They are someone else’s as is the satisfaction that stem from them. But when you live by choice, you own your life because you can choose to do what you know you have to do. The more your actions are an expression of who you really are and reflect the wisdom, benevolence and creativity that has been deposited in you, the more the fruit they will bear will be meaningful and satisfying to you and to those around you.
In order to be able to really make authentic choices, you need to be aware of another little ‘gap’ located somewhere inside your head: the gap between what is taking place around you and how you respond to it. We have all been in situations where different people would react differently to similar conditions of pressure – some thriving, others tensing, shrinking or shying away, other again breaking down into pieces.
Between the moment something happens around you – or ‘to’ you – and the moment your respond with a word, an emotion or even a thought, there is a small ‘space of time’ in which you have a choice. It is very small and most people walk through it without even noticing its presence because, yes, it goes very fast. Yet, it is there and it is where that all decisions are made and their consequences determined. When you become aware of what is taking place in the gap between perception and response, you start to see that there are always several ways of relating to a single situation and that you always have a choice.
How do you do that? Become aware that you are an observer and … observe. Take a moment to watch/listen/feel before you judge; breathe before you react; pause before you speak; develop the habit to observe your behaviour, your feelings, your mind so you can ‘think before you think’. You are not what happens to you; you are not your thoughts; you are not your emotions; you are not your worries or your hopes – they are thing you ‘do’.
The observer is the part of your consciousness that ‘sees’ unlike the other part that ‘thinks’ or creates the great drama of opinions, demands, regrets, desires and emotions that is habitually going in the mind. You are the actor and you are also the beholder. Establish yourself in the position of being the observer. Watch the show – it is fun. But even more interesting as you settle in the seat of the observer, you start to realise that you are the actual creator of the drama going on inside your head. If you can see this, it will become obvious that you are not bound in any way to always think, feel or act in the same way but that you can seek different or higher levels of personal effectiveness and fulfilment.
Success is the outcome of action and action is always of the present. So … ‘being’ in the present, observe carefully, think meaningfully and live intentionally from the benevolence which lives inside the heart and gives birth to responsibility. Nothing is really unattainable provided you know what you really want, why you want it and why it is so essentially important for you and for the world in which you live. The ‘how’ often takes care of itself when the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ are clear and when you know how to remain open and watch.
- Freedom of feeling: Ellen Margron’s Emotional Mastery (bluegrassnotes.wordpress.com)