Mindfulness: I Used to Roll My Eyes But I Was Wrong
"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
The great thing about getting older is finding the wisdom to reexamine my perspective. Fred Kofman, in his book Conscious Businesssays that we all think that our perception of reality is absolute truth. Our perception is actually a combination of facts + interpretation. The problem is that we assume that it is all fact. For years, I delegated mindfulness meditation to the “woo-woo” category of New Age mysticism. When I heard people suggest mindfulness meditation as a tool to “improve my resilience” I just rolled my eyes and said to myself, “I passed Organic Chemistry, I’m already resilient by definition.” I was wrong.
Resilience is not an ability that can be measured on a pass-fail basis. Just like physical fitness, it is a continuum and there’s always room for improvement. Unfortunately, it took me a while to get past my bias on mindfulness. I’m glad that I did. About 2 years ago I decided to try the Calm app on my iPhone. The app provides a tremendous variety of mindfulness exercises. It’s a great way to begin. I’ve found mindfulness to be very helpful for several very important — dare I say breakthrough — reasons.
After practicing mindfulness for about a month I became aware that I am not my feelings. Although this sounds like a simple and insignificant distinction, it is anything but. It’s like the difference between being in a raft tossed down the rapids vs sitting on the bank of the river watching the raft go by. “I’m angry” is significantly different that “I’m feeling angry”. If “I am angry” then I have no choice. It is just the way I “am”. If “I’m feeling angry” then I discover that I actually have a choice.
When I’m being tossed through the rapids in a raft, there is no choice other than hold on for dear life. When I’m on the bank of the river, I can stop and ask myself with curiosity, “I wonder why I’m afraid? Is fear a reasonable response? Are there any other options?” Sitting on the bank, I have choices. Through mindfulness meditation, I’ve become aware of the “space” between stimulus and response where Viktor Frankl says our “power to choose” resides. Make no mistake, the power to choose can dramatically change your experience and the experience of others around you.
With awareness and choice comes the ability to be kind to myself and others. It’s difficult to measure the impact of an internal voice that is negative or perhaps even abusive. I suspect that many of us would speak differently toward ourselves if everyone else could hear the conversation. However, since the internal voice is shrouded in secret, it can be downright mean. Until you become aware of that voice, it is difficult to do anything about it. Mindfulness has shined a light in the darkness and given me the opportunity to choose to be kind.
I’m certain that I have much more to learn but I didn’t want to wait to share this with you. Give it a try. Be patient. It takes a while. Approach it with curiosity and kindness. I’d love to hear about your experience and insights.