Our culture has conditioned us to respond immediately to whatever shows up. We celebrate immediate feedback, consider a quick reply to an email or text to be a trait of a responsible person, and scorn those who take too long for our liking.
We have built a culture where faster is always better.
This means that personally, we often interrupt what we’re doing for the latest vibration in our pocket, notification on our computer screen, or thought that arises in our head. It is the newest thing, we must respond to it immediately!
This can easily lead us to a place where we feel overwhelmed – everything is super important, and everything has to be dealt with NOW!
Plus, when we interrupt our previous activity for the latest most important thing, we are adding on to our current open projects list.
It’s a lot to manage.
In a world of instant connection, instant messaging, and instant gratification, we have been trained that everything is an emergency. Everything is amplified. Especially in ourselves.
However, we don’t have to react to every thought or feeling that arises.
Whether we are meditating or not, life marches on. The ceaseless onslaught of sensation will persist whether we are sitting still or actively participating in it.
When we meditate we purposefully take the opportunity to step into a different relationship to the cacophony of sensation that feels never ending.
We intentionally pause and say, “I know these sensations are there, but I’m not going to do anything about them.”
Stimuli will continue when we meditate. Sound doesn’t stop; you may very well hear the sound of your breath or an ambulance off in the distance.
Physical sensations don’t stop either; you may feel a buzz in your pocket, or an itch on your nose, or a sudden pang of pain in your foot.
Our minds don’t stop; you will be aware of thoughts such as, “Don’t forget to put milk on the grocery list!” or “How long have I been meditating for? It feels like forever.”
Meditation is a practice of deconditioning our immediate reaction to sensation. We gain practice at noticing a stimulus has appeared and noticing what happens when we don’t do anything.
Take a Breath
Mom’s proverbial advice to “take a breath and count to ten” is more applicable now than ever. When we are bombarded with information, energy, and stimulus coming from all direction, it is easy for us to assume that everything is important.
But if everything is important, nothing is.
The more we learn to take pauses throughout our day – whether to sit and meditate for 10, 20, or 30 minutes, or short, 10-second pauses between activities – the more we reset ourselves to use a healthier, broader, and more grounded perspective when determining the importance of a stimulus.
Meditation is a training for us. When we meditate and stop reacting to each and every sensation, we are reminding ourselves that not everything is an emergency. Noise comes and goes, as does the itch on the nose, and as does thought.
When we witness these things rise and fall as we do the breath, we come into contact with the impermanence of it all.
We learn to respond to the pain that stays for a while, not every little tic that sprouts up. We learn which thoughts are the truly important ones warranting more attention and which are just static.
The more familiar we are with not hyper-reacting, the more we naturally pause when we are in our waking life. In this pause there is great peace and great freedom.
Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, and holocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl once quipped that “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.”
In a world of always-on and always-connected, the benefits of training ourselves to take that beat, to take that breath, to pause, are innumerable.
Are you reading this post with a thought in your mind of what you’re going to do as soon as you finish it? Are you already in the middle of 4 other things?
Notice what happens if when you finish reading this post, you pause.
Just sit still and do nothing for 10 seconds.
Enjoy your breath.
Check in with yourself.
Take a beat. Then start your next activity.