Between Stimulus and Response (Inspirational)

Man's Search for Meaning

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.

Viktor E. Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning

A Man’s Search for Meaning is one of the most inflation memoirs by Victor Frankl. He described his horrific experiences as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. In this work of art, Victor Frankl explains how the meaning of life helped him, and others survived during the most gruesome experiences a human can endure.  Like many other prisoners, everything that makes us human was take away from Viktor Frankl. However, it is not what happened to him (stimulus) but how he responded to it. In other words, even when everything was taken, Viktor Frankl has his freedom and power to choose his response.

It is a challenging concept in our modern life, to pause, to breathe, to stay with joy and pain. We are driven by our senses, media, social pressures, and so on. When in fact, the faster we go, the less we notice, the less time we have to be present with life.

One of my favorite mediation teachers, Tarah Brach, defines the state between stimulus and response as a “Sacred Pause.” In one of her books Radical Acceptance, she noted:

“Pausing as a technique may feel unfamiliar, awkward, or at odds with our usual way of living. But actually there are many moments—showering, walking, driving—when we release our preoccupations and are simply aware and letting life be.”

Personally, reflecting on my life, I found myself in the most trouble when I rushed and pushed: quickly reaching out for the cookie jar when my stomach was full, falling and busting my knee skiing – so I can get just one more run, saying things that I regretted, and not staying present when I could.

Pausing is an on-going discipline. And, here is where the daily yoga practice comes handy. First, we start on the mat, coming to the body. As we link our minds with our breaths, we enter into stillness; we focus on the movement. Next, we sit with our breathing, focusing on the gentle sound of inhalation and exhalation, and becoming friends with ourselves. The stimulus comes in, as our mind wanders to the fridge, email, newsfeeds, as we kindly bring it back to our breathing. We continue with our meditation practice as we became aware, we pause. There is room in that pause, and that room freedom lies! Ideally, we start each daily with a short practice allowing ourselves to linger in that sacred pause. Finally, this translates into our everyday life. We became a little bit more present with ourselves, our children, our loved ones, we notice the beauty and tranquility of the natural world, and life feels just a little bit more full and exciting.

Of course, not all experiences are pleasant. Life can be painful, and things break, we lose our health, loved ones, but we can endure because we have the choice to respond! 

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