Hello and welcome to Friday, August 2, 2019. Wait what? August 2nd? How did that happen? Because time has a way of flying by, let’s do our best to be present for each moment.
There is a quote by Viktor Frankl that I try to keep in the forefront of my mind. Frankl says, “between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Wise Words! What is crucial to bear in mind is that just because we know it’s better to respond than to react, does not mean we have the capacity to do so. This is like present-moment awareness. Just because we want to be present in our lives, doesn’t mean we can. Our mind compulsively drags us away from the present. If we hope to live in the now, we must train our mind to stay present. Fortunately, the tool that fosters our ability to be present is the very same tool that expands the gap between stimulus and response. That tool – meditation!
Remember that we are groovy people. We tend towards impulsivity and habitualized reactions with little or no forethought nor consideration of our values. As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I still have the capacity to impulsively react to people who disagree with me politically. I am passionate about human rights and if I perceive that someone is challenging me, when I’m not mindful, my hackles raise and I aggressively react! This destructive learned response is deeply engrained and just because I know it’s unskillful and unkind, does not suggest that it won’t happen. We are groovy people!
The antidote to this unskillful reactive behavior is meditation. It doesn’t work overnight, but when diligently practiced (I suggest every day), our volatile kneejerk reactions transform into thoughtful, kind and compassionate responses which are in alignment with our most cherished values.
Shamatha (mindfulness of breath) meditation works because it not only fosters present moment awareness, but also it teaches us how to relax. Think about it. How relaxed are you in knee-jerk situations? I’m guessing if you’re like me, not at all. Typically, when we are impassioned and emotionally triggered we are not relaxed. If we don’t recognize that we are triggered, we are much more likely to recklessly react rather than skillfully respond. As we practice relaxing in meditation, we develop a body consciousness. Over time, we learn to quickly recognize when we are not relaxed and furthermore can define with assurance the emotion we are experiencing. When challenging conditions arise, our awareness says, “hey, I’m experiencing anger and I feel threatened. I better take a few breaths and relax before I respond.”
The practice of Shamatha helps us to develop this body consciousness. As we become more relaxed and as we follow the instructions of returning to the sensations of breath each time we notice that we’ve wandered off into thought, it trains our mind to be watchful for when we are not paying attention to our body – not present. As I frequently mention while guiding meditations, “our body does not exist in the past nor does it exist in the future, our body only exists in the present moment.” Our body is therefore a reliable anchor to the present. This combined present moment awareness and body consciousness expands the gap between stimulus and response. And, in this spacious awareness “is our power to choose our response.”
The caveat: if we hope to make value-based decisions in that space between stimulus and response, we better know what our values are. Because, “in our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
I love each of you and there isn’t anything that you can about it.