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What’s a uniquely human ability? We are very likely the only animals on the planet that can create a space between stimulus and response. Actually I don’t know if this can be proven, but it most certainly is a major aspect of being human.

Human beings have the ability to choose what their response will be for any given stimulus, and yes even fight or flight ones like the response to being burnt. But a focus on extreme life or death responses is not helpful for what I’m pointing to here. I’m talking about the everyday “normal” stimuli that we are exposed to.

Every one of us has the ability to consider an incoming stimulus (something happens), think about it (make it mean something) and then respond (take some action or ignore the stimulus).

Creating that space is for many of us a lost art. Of course we can’t consider every possible stimulus that we receive in any given day, but there are many that do deserve this space, this consideration, because our response will either work to build our relationships and the life that we want …. or not.

A practiced consideration of what is happening around us, and to us will afford us the ability to assess the appropriate response for a positive life experience or a negative life experience. For the most part, I’m speaking here of a cumulative life experience.

Think about this in your average day. You’re late for work and your 7 year old is nagging you about being poked by the 10 year old and you explode. No space.

You’re driving to work and someone cuts you off and you explode. No space.

You’re being interviewed for a job and you cut the interviewer off even before she finishes asking you the question. No space.

In each example there is an unintended consequence. A price will be paid.

I love the last example. Have you ever noticed people who are uncomfortable with silence? All you have to do is be silent and they will talk themselves into a corner, out of a job, or (you) under the table. That’s a good sign of someone who has completely lost the art of creating this space between stimulus and response.

Creating this space is a great practice in the practice of your life. When people speak to you take a couple seconds before responding to really consider what they are saying or asking, and then respond. Your response is then more likely to be aligned with your goals, and commitments. Maybe even compassion.

Now this will be no benefit to you unless you develop an associated practice of choosing meaning and assessing situations and character. I’ll post on these at another time, but for now consider that when you create the space you must use that space (time) to choose what meaning you attribute to what someone says, and/or assess a situation.

This meaning you choose, or assessment you make is always within the context of what your goals are and how the person or situation in front of you fits in.

For now just think about the space. Where in your life would you benefit from a practice of creating that space?

The other day my friend Brenda posted a video of a guy dancing on her blog “Scrapbooks for the Soul“, and she said it made her cry. It shows a very white guy, doing a very white jig in different places all over the world. Now I’m out of the closet when it comes to expressing my feminine side, so I fully expected to have the tears welling up, but at the start of it I had doubts about the emotional value of the piece. I was reaching for the tissues by the end.

Then another friend sent me another clip showing people walking around with a sign saying “free hugs”. Tissues also. Both are below (need to have good sound with your system to appreciate fully). Two things strike me about both videos:

  1. Somebody had to have a silly idea and decide to do it regardless of what anybody said.
  2. The love among all people that is just underneath once we give up our conversations of fear.

Here they are. Watch out for the guy in front in Paris

Here’s the other (it was a public service piece that won awards):

Actually wept watching this:

You can find it on You Tube under “Lighthouse Everything”.

Working for yourself presents unexpected challenges. Being on my own has taught me the value of routines in my daily life.

Without the imposed routines that come from a corporate job that starts at 8 or 9am every day, you find yourself pondering when to take showers, exercise, meditation etc., in addition to whatever work it is you do.

And yes. When to take a shower can actually become a major decision point in your day when you don’t have a regular 9 to 5 job. Hell, sometimes wondering if to change from by Bugs Bunny boxers to my Daffy track pants (very comfy both) is a half hour debate with myself.

Then there is the thought given to what shall I do for exercise, or how will I meditate today when I don’t have effective routines as part of my exercise or meditational practices.

Having to think about and choose every day when and what the actual practice will look like that day WASTES TIME.

Routines are either imposed upon you, or you are forced to create them when you work for someone else. If you do it’s good to notice them and the role they play in helping you be productive. Some of them may not. A routine of having garlic rice and beans before your one o’ clock dept. meeting for example may not be appreciated by your colleagues.

If you work for yourself, especially starting out create some routines right at the beginning. Getting up showering and dressing for work just as if you had a 9 to fiver may do wonders for your productivity.

There are two measures that enable me to assess my progress in this area of my life. One is Time to Productivity (TP) which is a measure of the amount of time that elapses from waking up till you actually are working.

The other is Productive Time (PT) and is simply a measure of how much time you spend working … actually working as opposed to watching reporters lose their cool when bugs fly into their mouth on YouTube (very funny), chatting with friends and other assorted time wasters.

Choose whatever works for you, but do invent something to keep you in action. Goofing off on your own time, intentionally or unconsciously will be at your own cost not your old boss.

Distraction, not religion, is the opium of the masses. Distraction is the enemy of living my life as a practice. Distraction serves as the band-aid to the worry and anxiety I feel when I’m not effectively taking care of my concerns in life. I know I’m heading off a cliff and it’s easier to go have a drink, or watch TV than it is to deal with the monkey on my back.

TV has been my drug (distraction) of choice. I used to have HBO many years ago and I realized that I would spend a minimum of 2 hours per night watching movies. And most of them I had seen before. When I clued into how much time I was wasting, and my weakness to resist, I canceled HBO. Consequence to this is I missed the cultural conversations around the Sopranos, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Bill Maher. Shows that I would like to watch, it’s just there are so many hours in a day and making choices sometimes means I give up stuff that provide value so that I can get or create more value somewhere else.

So don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying all TV is bad, I’m just careful about my consumption. Some shows and channels provide useful information and tasteful entertainment. I’m a fan of PBS, National Geographic, History, Arts and Entertainment to name a few. And yes I do indulge time to time in the gratuitous sex and violence shows, yet I look for the ones that also provide some useful insight into our humanity and there are several violent pictures that do that well. Crash the movie is one of them.

I’d love to hear about your favorite distractions.

I use the word “learning” instead of “learn” because letting go is an art that you will spend your life practicing. Yet this is nothing to be discouraged about. The whole idea of living your life as a practice is that there is no final state of perfection. You always can improve.

Letting go is an essential practice for what George Leonard calls “Mastery”. Letting go, or surrendering is an essential practice because resistance is the adversary of the Master.

Looking back on my own life, I can see how I couldn’t let go of looking good. I never stayed with many endeavors because I couldn’t surrender to the clumsiness, awkwardness, uncertainty, confusion and frustration that comes with learning a new sports/skills/arts. Unless I could learn in private where no one could see me.

Even with skills that I had natural talent at I turned away from because of this fear of not looking good. The fear of what others would think of me because I wasn’t already skilled and accomplished kept me from practicing to acquire that same skill and accomplishment.

Letting go is such an essential practice that I’ll be posting about it many times. Would love to hear any thoughts you have on the subject.