the space between stimulus and response


There is a space between stimulus and response. And in that space lies our freedom and growth. - Viktor Frankl (author and concentration camp survivor)

I'm imagining that if you are like most people reading this blog post, you have no shortage of tasks to accomplish today and every day. How do we want to approach these tasks?


The first choice is to react. To just launch into our day, fueled by the unexamined story that says to us, "There is so much I have to get done." There's no time to stop and prioritize.


Have you been there before? Are you in that state today? I can get there more often than I would like to admit.


The alternative choice is to acknowledge that I can't get it all done. And that's okay. And therefore I need to take the time to prioritize. Furthermore, I need to slow down to prioritize. Slow down to discern.


Three years ago I had the huge gift of a four-month sabbatical. It was ending right about this time of year. I remember saying to myself, "I feel more grounded and centered than I ever have in my life." The time of rest and reflection and rejuvenation (along with some study in the field of applied improvisation) was so life-giving from me.


As I have been reflecting on this more, I realize that we need rest and space at all levels. We need weekends. We need nights to rest and recoop. We need to take time for lunch (away from our computer). We need breaks in our days. We need to take deep breaths. We need to pause.


When we don't take this time to rest and reflect and discern we stay churning at top speeds building up stress hormones (cortisol for example) in our bodies that cause muscle tension, anxiety, and lead to disease. I don't know about you, but when I'm on this GO-GO-GO pace, it is really hard to NOT feel like it ALL has to get done. And get done NOW.


Whereas, when I take a short walk around the block, or when I do my 12 minute restorative yoga after lunch every day, the sediment settles and I'm able to see more clearly.


Often something will rise to the surface that is important and wasn't even in my field of vision prior to slowing down. I notice that offer, and now I can respond to it.


Now make no mistake this call to slow down is counter-cultural. You may be thinking, "Hey David, there's no way I can slow down, there's way too much I have to do". In response to that I would say, "Can you take a small break, just a small one, and ask yourself, 'Do I have a choice?' "


And what small choice can I make that will help my body, mind, and spirit settle and come to rest. And then ... act from that place.


Also, when we build these muscles of reflective action versus reactivity, it will be a gift to us even and especially in the middle of the busyness of life.


* *

To widen our vision of this need for mindful action, I want to mention an important initiative to bring mindfulness where it is desperately needed right now - for police in the US.


Two summers ago I was on the teaching faculty at Holden Village for a week. I had the pleasure of meeting Richard Goerling, the founder of the Mindful Badge Initiative. He was in law enforcement for over two decades and was a part of a NIH study on mindfulness in policing. Some police departments have benefited greatly from his training; others because of long entrenched ways of doing things, have ignored the hard data showing the power of mindfulness for cops.


We all need to develop mindfulness.

And as we develop and expand that space we will find freedom a growth.


What would be made possible if more police departments intentionally developed that space for there staff?


Today, may we make some space to bring to our hearts Jacob Blake and his family. He is now paralyzed because of excessive reactionary force used by Kenosha police.

The time we take for mindfulness not only helps us discern the tasks on our plate, but also discern what matters and who matters in our world.


By developing mindfulness ourselves we work against the reactionary violence in our world.


Take space to breathe today and in this season.


And from that space work to give all of us, especially black lives,

space to breathe, and live and grow in true freedom.





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©2020 David Westerlund