Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Live like you’ve done today before, and you’re about to screw it up again.
Live like you’ve been given a second chance to correct the mistake you’re about to make.
Live like you’re living for the second time, and in that moment before you act wrongly again, pause and consider what you are about to do.
Because like Frankl says, “Between stimulus and response is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
I relate these quotes to mindfulness, or living in the moment. Most of the time I live unconsciously, reactively. My responses to life’s difficulties are preprogrammed through upbringing and habit. I’m usually not aware of what I say and do, let alone think before I say and do those hurtful things.
But as I focus on the present moment, as I become mindful of my words and actions, I begin to perceive the gap, or “space” as Frankl calls it, between the stimuli and responses in my life. What I was unconscious to before suddenly becomes very visible as I focus on the moment, but initially it is difficult to do anything but witness my own unconsciousness.
Having said that, becoming aware of my unconsciousness is a great leap forward! Over time, as I am able to focus on the present for longer periods of time, I notice I have the power to step into the “space” between stimulus and response and make a conscious choice on what I say or do next.
I once explained it to a friend like this: Mindfully watching my own mistakes in life is like witnessing a car accident in motion. I see that something bad is about to happen. The driver isn’t paying attention. He’s going too fast. It’s raining. I know there’s going to be an accident before it happens. And then bang, the accident happens just like I knew it would. I wanted to warn the drivers involved, but I couldn’t. There wasn’t enough time; things were happening too fast. All I could do is watch in horror.
Being mindful of your life is a lot like this. At first, all you can do is watch the accident happening. But that is an important first step, as most people are unaware of the vehicular wreckage they leave in their wake. So watch the accidents happen. Be mindful in every moment of your life. Watch yourself complain unnecessarily. Watch yourself pass the buck of suffering from your boss to your family. Watch yourself blow up at your kids for acting their age; watch yourself not act yours. Watch yourself hold people to higher standards than you maintain in your own life. Watch yourself judge people’s lives while begging for mercy in your own.
And by being mindful, you will soon see the wisdom of the opening quote: “So live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!”
- See yourself about to complain unnecessarily and step into the “space” between stimulus and response. In your mind’s eye see yourself living the next moment a second time, and choose to keep your complaints to yourself
- See yourself about to pass the buck of suffering from your boss to your family and step into the gap between one moment and the next. In your mind’s eye see yourself living the next moment a second time, and choose to bear the suffering
- See yourself about to blow up at your kids for acting their age; see yourself not acting yours. Step into the “space” between their actions and your words. In your mind’s eye see yourself living the next moment a second time, and choose to hug your kids instead of scream at them
- And on, and on, and on…
Be mindful in your life. Live your life a second time, now, while you still have the chance. Step into the gaps between moments and choose to live consciously.