It’s within a mere second, a single breath, in which we pause to either react or respond to an action or situation. A reaction is so visceral, so quick and without thought it can reflect our true emotion or feeling in an instant. Often it is our gut reaction keeping us from reaching our full potential as conscious individuals. Mindfulness is a skill that deserves practice and one requiring much thought and care. I have found that finding awareness in the moment between reaction and response is an example of a mindfulness practice that can have a significant impact on our lives. I am learning now, it is a difficult concept for some to grasp.
Take this situation for instance: It’s morning time, you are entering a cafe filled with people in a tight crowded space and the bodies of people around are attempting to form a line. You are all beginning to make sense of the order, but you are in a hurry. Your instincts tell you to claim your space, and then you notice there is another person meeting you halfway. You pleasantly look at one another, pause in acknowledgment and kindly respond, offering this spot to each other. With little hesitation this is often the scenario, when people are met face-to-face, a pause and understanding of appropriate behavior occurs. Manners kick in, giving us time to stop, think, and respond with care. A holding of the door or an offer of help to someone in need seems to come naturally if you pause to think. For some, it is a natural reaction.
Now, imagine you are in your car and the cafe becomes the freeway on ramp. Everyone is funneling toward the line and the instinct becomes every man for himself. There is honking, hand gestures, and aggressive behavior. Reactionary tendencies are taking place and that pause to consider you are interacting with a person and not a vehicle seems to get lost. This disconnect is pretty easy to understand. It certainly happens in other scenarios as well, but I find it is even more common in situations when we are detached from person-to-person contact. It’s so easy to lose ourselves with distraction. Road rage, cyber-bullying, and poor netiquette are great examples of how technology may blind our judgement and fosters an environment in which mindless behavior may more easily occur.
Well, I’m no expert, but what comes to mind is something simple. “The simpler, the better” is the key answer to most of what I’ve learned over the years in regards to mindfulness and meditation. Recently, a wise and very mindful teacher shared with me her thoughts. Here are three reminders I took with me to help find that moment in time (or space) between reaction and response.
1. Let go – Stop worrying about all the things that distract us from the moment. Live in the moment and don’t be worried with the next task or list of to-dos. Worrying consumes our energy and from the perspective of Chinese medicine, it consumes our qi. The rumination or over-thinking of tasks or problems can be exhausting and a sign that our bodies are imbalanced.
2. Find the moment between thoughts and relish in it’s peacefulness. We are often thinking from one thought to the next and without pause, we have constant distraction. That pause is just what our minds need. In fact, that is where true wisdom lies. Relax and be comfortable with silence. Constant inner and outer dialogue is often an indication of too much internal heat or fire with in. Calm the fire by creating space.
3. Practice – Now take those exercises and put them into a daily practice. Find time to let go, live in the moment, and allow your thoughts to drift away as you focus on internal peace and quiet (I prefer that then saying nothing). If you find you need a focus, begin by following your breath. Inhale… exhale… and just be. Start with five minutes a day, set a timer if you think it might help you avoid watching the time. Continue to incorporate this practice more frequently and then start expanding the length of time. There is no magic to meditation, it’s better not to think about it too much. Don’t forget, it’s a life-long practice and like most things worth practicing, it will be worth your effort.
The more we are able to find peace with ourselves the greater our ability to is to actually find the moment in time between reaction and response. Our anger and frustrations in life can easily consume us and keep us at edge, like a bottle ready to explode. That is no way to live – always just a trigger away from explosion. So go find a cozy corner, take a seat, settle in, and let go!
Other mindful inspiration:
Growing Minds, of Milwaukee: empowering students and teachers through the use of mindfulness skills to create a better learning environment and stronger school community.
Join the Blue Zones Project Start making your community a happier, healthier place to live, work and play!
- Benefits of Mindfulness (psychologytoday.com)
- The Zen of Work (urbantimes.com)
- Become a More Mindful Parent by Pausing Before Responding to Your Children (lifehacker.com)