As adults we often talk about wanting, needing, or honoring “more space” in our lives. Space in all forms – physical, mental, and emotional – is important for our growth and sanity. We give our kids “time-outs” to come back to center, we do solo activities like hike, run, or walk to clear our heads, we even voluntarily choose to go on silent meditation retreats to reset within the singular space of ourselves.
But the space I’m interested in isn’t this kind of space. To me those are metaphors for the space where life’s potential energy actually resides…
“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 Frankl
The reality is though, we don’t focus too much on this space. Why? Because life is happening so crazy fast – especially these days with our frenetic attention resulting from multiple demands and distractions. Many of us are on autopilot mode surviving whatever is thrown our way. Because of this we “react” rather than “respond” because we’re simply not present enough to know we have the option.
What’s the difference between reaction and response? And why do I care?
When we react it’s because we’ve been triggered or we’re simply not present. When triggered or on autopilot mode we typically play out an unconscious reactive behavior and have little, if any, awareness that we’re doing it. It’s always after the fact that we recognize we’ve just reacted. And there is usually some consequential remorse or regret.
When we’re reacting to life, we’re oblivious of this precious “space” between perceiving and responding and thus fail at living in full consciousness.
This is when we feel like “life is living us.”
But responding, on the other hand, is living life intentionally and on purpose. It’s a practice of growing and utilizing this space in which we’re aware of our surroundings, circumstances, thoughts, feelings, and judgements and correspondingly choose the love-based, “high-road” response to what we perceive.
“…In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.”
Here’s an example of what recognizing this space looks like:
A while back while packing for a vacation my son, Aidan, was completely fascinated with a new pill box I got for his vitamins for everyday of the trip. I could surely understand why – 7 small compartments lined in red, his favorite color, that open individually filled with an assortment of chewy gummy bear candy-like goodness. What 5-year-old wouldn’t be mesmerized? While I was madly trying to be efficient and pack, Aidan wanted nothing more than to show me how he could open every box, take out each allotment of vitamins, slowly count them, and put them back in the box. My tunnel vision to finish packing prevented me from seeing the excitement he wanted to share with me. My hyper-achiever, hyper-drive self got impatient with his refusal to heed my requests to gather up his stuff and as I raised my voice a second time I recognized what was happening.
I looked down and for the first time that afternoon saw his sweet little wonder-filled face staring back at me. So, instead of unconsciously acting out in “reaction” and travel down the path of packing and missing this magical moment, I captured the space that existed between his innocent refusal to listen to me (stimulus/trigger) and my potential decision to shut this vitamin counting activity down so we could “get on with it.” In this space of awareness, I felt his innocence and request to connect with me. In this space of awareness, I could choose love. I put down my checklist, dropped my resistance, and surrendered to the simple task of loving presence as he counted every vitamin in that pill box. Had I not seized this space between stimulus and response I would of gained 2 minutes of packing time and lost precious magic shared between my child and me.
I’m sure you know what I’m talking about here. These sorts of opportunities to respond to life and live consciously are here for us all the time, everyday. We just need to honor the space.
So how can we get better at recognizing and engaging this space? One way is meditation. The sheer act of meditating builds our capacity for recognizing and growing this space. Meditation helps us be the observer of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors as they are happening so that we recognize that we are at choice with how we either react or respond to the stimuli we receive.
Meditation is a topic on it’s own that I’ll cover in a future post. But for now if you’re itching to know more about it, I urge you to follow your inspiration and check it out. 🙂
Until then – Space. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s where our power lies. It’s where we can live Always On Purpose.
Amy Eliza Wong is a life coach, writer, and speaker in the Sacramento, CA area committed to helping people figure out what makes them tick so they can finally live with joy and real purpose. Learn more about working with her.