Choice is in the Gap: between reaction and response is a moment, a gap, where you pivot.
Learning to find the gap between action and reaction changed my life and opened the door to wrestling control over my life from my critical voice.
Doubt, space, the pause between breath in and breath out – whatever term used, the experience is the same.
The gap offers opportunity to choose within awareness, to live life from clarity rather than the murkiness of knee-jerk reaction.
In the outside-in view of the world, the flash and glitter of acquiring goods, experience, or status can be mistaken as life’s ultimate price. Career, family, and life are organized toward obtaining these dazzling prizes to satisfy inflexible ego, social judgment, and the need for outer validation. In the rat race, the self is pushed to the shallow and the superficial. Successfully grasping this objective, the momentary positive feelings push toward another grab. However, ultimately acquisition doesn’t improve feeling about self, satisfy ego, or feel the need for validation. Instead, the outward directed cycle continues by another grab after the ephemeral and what will again yield no meaning in life.
The cycle of desire and acquire pushes towards becoming through a false sense of self identity. A distraction from essential, authentic self.
In this outside-in process, false desire fuels an addictive cycle where motion is driven unconsciously and solely by reaction to the attainment of this desire. Disappointment and conflict occur when the desire is not acquired or the expected satisfaction of reaching desire fails to materialize as anticipated. Self is caught in a simple fiction: get it to be happy. When the object or the satisfaction with the object fails, reaction fuels the fiction to continue. Response does not question the rat-race cycle following the push to try again to get it.
In this frustration of unmet desire, reactions can take several routes. One path justifies the suffering which results from unmet desire. A second path moves to pretend the disappointment did not occur, repressing any feeling, and attempting to gain the desire once more. A third response is self-hatred or hatred towards others. Often denial and hatred go hand in hand as the advance guard attempts to grab the promised satisfaction. Either way, reaction is driven by personal story and belief, by expectation, blame, fear, and judgment. React, then plot new strategy driven by desire and an attachment for rewarding the outside-in point of view.
However, in moving toward inside-out process of living, the motivation for action shifts from blinding desire to conscious choice. Shifting attention from blindly reacting to the present moment awareness of center, opens a gap in the cycle between desire and reaction. Focusing attention in this present moment and giving attention to awareness held within heart and mind opens the gap between the surfacing of feelings and possible unconscious reaction. Even the tiniest amount of focused awareness to this moment offers a short pause to consider feelings and whether or not the choice of the next step is conscious or unconscious. The awareness of conscious choice leads to choosing the shape and direction of the path through attentive awareness to heart and mind.
In allowing a gap, habit shifts from the relentlessness of capricious desire toward the possibility, and responsibility, of personal choice. The gap allows action to be based on awareness of feelings and thoughts as well as on the context of the response. Unconscious reaction forestalled becomes conscious action initiated. Attachment to desire begins to lose its hold, turning instead toward the expression of deepest being in this present moment, unique within all experience. Moving from outside-in to inside-out, attention switches from false want to how to live. Life moves from the acquisition of what to attention towards the process of how.
Choice is in the Gap: This is an excerpt from How to Navigate the Five Steps of Your Spiritual Journey, Chapter 12.