Everything we do in life is a choice. From what we eat, to checking our email, to making coffee for our spouse in the morning. Our choices are manifested as words and actions (or inactions). If we wish to explore the idea of choices further, we can contemplate the fact that our choices arise from our thoughts and emotions. A thought or feeling will lead to the next decision we make. Thinking about a looming deadline may prompt us to begin working on a project. Happiness may lead us to hug our spouse. Anger may lead us to shout expletives at the driver that just cut us off on the highway.
Over the years, I have learned some rather interesting truths about these concepts of thoughts, emotions, and choices. These teachings came through people much more insightful on this topic than me. It was through their words in books as well as in person mentorship that I came to reflect on the idea that I might be ignorant of something critical.
What was I missing? The empty space. I was missing the small segment of time that exists between thought or emotion and choice leading to eventual action. That space is there, and, with practice, we all have the ability to recognize and utilize it. In circumstances of heightened negative emotions, such as anger, instead of just reacting, this space will give us the power to respond with thoughtful consideration.
I have experienced this many times over the years. A few weeks ago, I was out running with my two larger dogs, Rocky and Bailey. It happened that they both decided to do their business (#2) at the same time and about ten feet apart. I was stretched out between the two of them, wondering who was going to finish first. When they were done and I was cleaning up, their leashes became entangled, and I became a bit flustered trying to separate them. Almost as soon as we got going again, Bailey decided to misbehave. He was biting on his leash and pulling. I became impatient and angry. I was about to react and loudly scold him. I then became aware of the empty space. It was seconds, but it gave me the opportunity to respond rather than react. I calmly regained his attention, he stopped pulling, and the crisis was over.
Practicing awareness of this space has helped me a lot over the years. Of course, I am a fallible human and there are still many times when I react rather than respond. However, I strive to be better every day. It’s amazing how a few empty seconds can have such an impact.