S( )R

“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 freedom.

— Viktor Frankl

If you wrote this quote as a formula, it might look like this: S( )R.

Upon discovering this formula, my mind is blown away. The idea is nothing new, it’s mindfulness simplified. As a self-proclaimed meditationphobe, however, there is nothing I dread more than the whole sitting in a comfortable position and focusing on my breathing and noticing my thoughts thing. My ex once said to me, after I playfully accused him of reading my journals, “I hear what comes out of your mouth, I don’t want to know the things you don’t say out loud.” Fair. There is a lot happening up there and I, too, don’t want to be anymore aware of it than necessary. In fact, I want to ignore it! Lucky for me, modern life provides ample opportunities to do just that, and the internet is the best escape of all.

The internet is a reaction machine.

Before I got off social media, before I turned my smartphone into a dumb phone, before I quit the news and declared the internet a pointless, unnecessary and banal waste of my time—  and I am proved right over and over and over again— it was my favourite escape. There were also the men, food, tequila and other drugs (response), but all paled in comparison to the escape the World Wide Web provided: The internet required little effort and was available anywhere and everywhere at all times. Funny enough, it even provided escape from my other escapes. Is this interaction with this guy uncomfortable? Pick up the phone, appear occupied and unbothered. I don’t want to think about the sheer amount of food I’m bingeing on to fill the un-fillable void? A YouTube video will provide just the distraction-from-distraction I need. Reaction after reaction after reaction. Any discomfort I felt (stimuli), emotional or otherwise, was immediately soothed with a frenzy scroll through the mass content available online (response).

Even after I got off social media, quit the news, turned my smartphone into a dumb phone and declared the internet a pointless, unnecessary, banal waste of my time, I still found myself trapped in a cycle of stimuli-reaction. The internet, even without social media, browsing apps and no news to reach me unless by word-of-mouth still provided other distractions to feed my desperate attempt to escape myself. If there is a will. My response to any situation that felt uncomfortable— a feeling, a to-do list, an interaction— became to run to the best escape civilization can provide, and it was free, effortless, and endlessly entertaining. If I wanted to, if I choose to, I could spend the rest of my life unaware of myself. It was equally enticing and horrifying.

But sometimes, life forces us to face ourselves.

As luck would have it, faced with a loss that turned my world upside down, violently shaking me awake from a long and deadly slumber, I show up to her office and cry, and cry, and cry; she takes notes on her iPad while asking a few questions here and there. “Let’s work on your values,” she says to me at last and gives me homework. That’s how I ended up stumbling upon the formula: S( )R.

Finally, I understand mindfulness.

It’s the space you can create between any given situation and your reaction to it. It’s the pause that comes before you pick up the phone, yell at your spouse, or open another beer. It’s the space where you ask yourself the question you wish somebody cared to ask years back: Are you okay? It’s a space to pause and tune into yourself. It’s a space to fill to the brim with all that makes you feel calm, safe, loved, protected and cared for. We don’t react to the situation at hand, ever if rarely. It’s not the spouse who forgot to take out the trash or the boss who ignores your request for whatever the work needs; We react to what it first felt like to feel unheard, ignored, abandoned in childhood; when we were so vulnerable and felt so helpless. Where we learn to escape, the yelling, the empty bottles, hours spent with a device.

situation (spaaaaaaaaaaaaace)reaction

The internet is a reaction machine that has turned us into reaction machines too. But what we desperately need is space to uncover and heal whatever it is that constantly nudges us to respond by running away from ourselves. This is a heavy price to pay, mostly because we are stuck with ourselves 24/7/365: There is no escaping yourself, only the illusion of it. Instead, create space just for you: To come home to, to let it out, to let go. Expand the space, fill it to the brim with all that which delights you; physically, mentally, spiritually. In that space tell yourself, often and in simple terms, I deserve peace, calm, and healing. Surely, you deserve that more than you deserve wasting your life away on digital junk. It’s really hard at first, and I don’t believe it will ever get easy, but overtime you will find yourself going to that space first; before the phone, the bottle, and the men that have no intention of loving you. Practise makes perfect-ish. I used to run to the internet, and other drugs, and now I run to that space first.

The best part about the formula is that you don’t need any special skill-set or equipment, but your personal commitment to creating space in-between a situation and your response. In fact, you can begin simply by visualizing the space: ( ). Practise this when you are in neutral or positive mode. When the mood strikes, on a piece of paper, in large print, write the formula S( )R and write in the bracket all the ways you can fill that space whenever a situation arises and before you respond. For me it looks like breathing x a million, asking if this situation is really what I think it is, doing a body scan to relax my neck, shoulder, hands and toes, saying a mantra: I am safe, I don’t need to escape, and journaling. The space can last a few seconds, or days, weeks, months, a lifetime. A space just for you.

Until next time,

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  1. Pavel P. Avatar
    Pavel P.

    I wonder about your meditation. Not feeling comfortable to meditate? Try to do “non-meditation”. Just sit and do nothing. 🙂


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