You wake up, commute, work all day, travel home, have a busy evening and sleep. The next day you repeat the same process, almost like the 1993 film Groundhog Day. Many of us seem to live very busy and complex lives without much time to properly reflect and fully appreciate the passing moments. In our time-poor world, it’s as if everything has become compressed; with too much to do and not enough time to get things done. This makes time appear to run faster and we find it hard to believe that another year has passed. As we only experience being alive in the present moment, if we happen to be drifting off in thought about the past or future, or are otherwise distracted, we’re not actually consciously present to our experience.
There’s also something else that goes on, which is whether or not you react automatically to whatever arises, through old behaviour patterns and habits, or find the space and freedom of choice to skilfully select a response that better serves you and others in the moment.
You may have come across, or even sent the humorous anniversary card that says, “At last I’ve found that special someone I want to annoy for the rest of my life”. The truth is that we tend to react more automatically with people we know well, than strangers. Like a machine when its button is pressed, we often get pulled into the same old mechanical reactions.
There’s a relevant quote that’s often attributed to Victor Frankl, the therapist, author and Holocaust survivor. In fact the only reference is in the foreword of a book on Frankl, written by Stephen Covey, the management and leadership educator. Covey tells the story of how, when he was on a writing sabbatical in Hawaii he visited the university library and browsing through the books came across the following lines, which he says, “Literally staggered me and again reaffirmed Frankl’s essential teachings:
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.”
At the time Covey did not make a note of the author and when he went back some years later the library no longer existed.
So how do we find the space that Covey was so staggered by and how can we free ourselves from being caught up in automatic and reactive habits?
In our common-sense material world most things we pay attention to appear solid, but physics tells us that there’s much more space in the universe than stuff. In fact 99.999% of matter, including your body is space. We’re surrounded by space but hardly notice because we tend to focus on the foreground and not the background of experience.
There’s also space in mindfulness practice: space as a pause, a gap, an opening, a glint of light, a moment of freedom, a choice, an insight, an opportunity. There’s space between these words and between thoughts.
When we are able to settle our restless minds and release any emotional agitation and physical tension during meditation, we’re more open to noticing and appreciating the space, stillness and silence, which are different aspects of the same peaceful and expansive background of experience that includes all content, thoughts, feelings, sounds and movement.
By cultivating mindful awareness we can enter and make use of space as a useful resource, between whatever arises in our experience and how we choose to respond. We also become more skilful at noticing when we react automatically and better able to observe old patterns of mind and behaviour that no longer serve us well.
It’s good to know that every moment and every day is unique and not actually like the experience of the arrogant TV Weatherman Phil Connors, in Groundhog Day. One theme of the film is that Phil is forced to live the same day 2 over and over again until he eventually re-examines his life and discovers a different way of responding to events.
Find somewhere undisturbed and sit in a comfortable, dignified and upright posture, where you can remain alert and aware.
There are two guided practices for this session. You can close your eyes, or lower your gaze while the meditations play.
Play the first settling practice, then read through the session content, which you can print off if that helps.
Then play the second practice to explore and become familiar with using space as a resource, which allows greater openness, freedom and flexibility to notice what’s going and skilfully respond in the present moment.