Between stimulus and response, there is a space.
In that space lies our freedom and our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our happiness.
I don’t know who said these words and I would like to know so that I could give credit, but these are the most important concepts I have ever learned. The space between the instant something comes into our awareness and the instant we respond is the most important space of all. That is where our power exists. To be able to be aware of what is transpiring in our thoughts-feelings-behavior-memory machine when someone or some thing outside us comes into focus–that is my highest aspiration. If I am aware and I realize that I have a choice in how I respond, I have claimed my power as an authentic human being.
It looks like this. My friend says: “I cannot believe how stupid I was!” I hear the words. Here comes the crucial instant, where I have a choice. Do I respond to the words, do I give the words meaning, do I kneejerk my way to an answer? Or do I have the presence of mind to pause and consider my response? The best way to respond, when I stop to think about it, is to reflect what my friend said. That way I stay out of interpretation of what she means, and I have the choice of where the conversation will go. If I can mirror her, saying, “I hear you saying that you cannot believe how stupid you were. Did I hear you correctly?” then I will probably stay out of her story and let her tell me all about it. If I respond with consolation, denial or imagined concepts as to what she means, I have taken over the conversation and taken ownership of it. My response means my energy will be centered on me and what I mean, rather than on her and what she means.
Individuation has been a central theme for me in my work with people these past years. We have been given a green light on becoming our selves to the maximum. Today, I am discovering that there is more to our authenticity than individuation. If we are to evolve as individual beings, we must look beyond our individual self-actualization. We must transcend to what Abraham Maslow indicated in his last years. He seemed to leave a legacy that went beyond his human needs hierarchical building blocks. He was talking in his last days about creative service as the next step beyond individualization. He spoke about self transcendence, which is the divine version of self development.
Self-Actualization sometimes becomes distorted into something shriveling and self serving. We become self absorbed and misinterpret the meaning of self actualization. Mindfulness about who we are and where we are going brings me to realize that our legacy has a great deal to do with our values. It also has to do with grasping the meaning that we are separate individuals, yet we are all one with the Great Life Force. Victor Frankl’s work brilliantly suggests that our search for meaning requires questioning our thinking. His confinement in the Nazi concentration camps brought him to the realization that he might be interred as a human body, yet the captors could not imprison his mind. In that lies all human freedom.
So, when my friend tells me about her self doubt and puts herself down, I can go deeply into all the choices for my response. The one I want to choose will usually help me learn more about my friend and what she values, rather than my imposing my will, my meaning, or my values on her.
That is today’s lesson! It was prompted by a question asked of me about my Transformation cards. Another friend asked if I had a card for people who talk bad about themselves, putting themselves down and never having a kind word to say. Turns out I didn’t have a card for that, so I have written my version of how to counteract the practice of Self-Doubt and Self Downing. This led to thinking about Maslow, Frankl, and others who have worked with the human condition. Here is the new card, for your perusal:
With every negative thought or word about yourself, STOP! Pause, please, and ponder how this makes you feel. Ask who you would be without these negative doubts and put-downs. Deliberately stop your mind, question your thoughts, and silence the critical parent voice. Ask yourself where you learned these negative messages. What voice from your past are you imitating? Change the story by counteracting the negative voice with five positive things you like about yourself. Your perception can be changed. Your negative interpretation can change. You can choose to cultivate a nurturing parent voice that supports and cares about you internally. Self love and self forgiveness are needed and possible.