“If we want to overcome our anxiety and feel good about ourselves, it’s not enough to invest in outer things. We have to make investments in our inner life as well. . . . It’s about keeping grounded and having perspective. It’s never too late to open that door.” — Lawrence Levy
Today, stuff is going to happen. Someone will say something to you. You’ll get an alert on your phone about some negative happening in the world. The weather might be bad. The line at your favorite lunch place will be too long. A close friend could call with news of a cancer diagnosis.
This is the stimulus. This is the world reaching out and shoving you. The question is, what will you do about it? What will your reaction be?
There is no better reminder than Viktor Frankl’s famous quote, learned in the depths and horrors of a concentration camp, about how to think in these situations.
“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.”
Frankl doesn’t say it will be a big space. He doesn’t say that we have a lot of power or that choosing the right response will be easy. But it is there.
You cannot control the stimulus’ that come up in your life, especially not the thoughts and worries that arise. Realize that these thoughts are NOT YOU.
Go deeper into them, and they will vanish.
This is a powerful understanding. Knowing that fear, anxiety, or anger that you feel at any moment cannot last unless you continue putting the fuel on the fire.
If you become mindful of the feeling inside of you (your jaw clenching, sweaty palms, etc.) and stay with the physical sensations long enough, the thought will cease to be there.
Don’t take my word for it, though, try it for yourself.
The space between the feeling and thought can be small, but it is there. And the more you practice looking for it, the larger the gap will become.
What will you make of it?
It is not enough to understand these things conceptually; you must be able to put them into action for the power to appear. Today, try to be aware of a negative emotion arising.
Pay careful attention to the feeling that manifests in your body.Which came first, the feeling or the story about why you are feeling the feeling?
Stay with it wherever it is in the body. (For me, feelings always manifest as a tense jaw and a sharp pain in my stomach. They can be different for you, but try to become aware of them.)
Breathe into the area of your body where you most notice it. Feel it relax. Then try to ‘look’ for the initial thought.
Is it still there? Or is there just another fear/worry about what the initial thought meant?
If so, realize this and focus on being present by focusing on your breath or a sensation in your body.
You have just found and used space.
Mindfulness can go so much deeper than just reducing stress or increasing focus. By cultivating an awareness that your thoughts are not who you are, you will start to alleviate much of the psychological suffering you have on a day-to-day basis.
When that happens, it truly is life-changing.
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