Do they get used? Enough.
There have been a couple of occasions in the past few days when I was very much driven to act, but I didn’t. I restrained myself. And in both cases that was GOOD! It is indeed good to refrain when our quick acting, quick fire selves would have us do otherwise. Refraining is what we DO when there is something we are driven to do and yet at the same time know it’s not a good plan.
What makes the difference with regards firing off, or not, is the space between stimulus and response. Somebody conveyed in casual conversation a piece of information about a course of action and I instinctively knew it was not a good course. That’s a stimulus. However, I had extra information that backed up my knowing it wouldn’t be a good course of action. So, the obvious course of action on my part was to intervene. To influence the course of action and STOP it! Ah yes, I’ll write an email!
Thankfully I didn’t write that email. Even if I had there would not have been a problem. Probably. It would have depended on the tone of voice I’d have adopted, the words used and the information conveyed. I want you to know that the gap between stimulus and my (non) response looked nothing like that idealise mellow, Now I am going to sit still with this. Oh no!
I ranted! Thankfully into the ears of a sympathetic and sane friend. (This is an aspect of taking Refuge in the Sangha but you have to be sure it’s with somebody who sees things differently to you, obviously.) She talked me down by appealing to reason and in the process, unintentionally I believe, called into question a basic operating premise which I habitually act from. The above is an example of the koan arriving naturally, being seen (with a little help from a friend), being acknowledged and not acted upon. That not acting, refraining and restraining oneself, can be excruciating. My legs took me to my computer. My hands and mind WANTED to write an email. Holding oneself back is so uncomfortable and often feels wrong. This restraining/refraining, repeated many times, lessens the energy driving the koan. And with the diminishing of energy there can follow real change in ones behaviour.
The next day I heard the course of action was not taken. By that time I’d forgotten all about the matter. Just one day later and it wasn’t an issue any longer. The fizz and pop had gone out of it all. Oh right, that’s good. Was my response to the news. How quickly ones nervous system can go from high alert to what’s called in certain circles, rest and digest mode.
So IS there a space between stimulus and response? Are we able to catch ourselves and refrain when that’s the Preceptual way? I’d say yes, perhaps not 100% of the time. Ones background intention to act Preceptually is paramount though. Regular formal meditation has profound influences on us and how we function. So that’s a GOOD to practice.
Look eee here! Meditation is being regarded as medicine. This is not news I’m sure.
Time for Your Meditation, The Independent
It has also been suggested that meditation might work by affecting the autonomic or involuntary nervous system, which regulates many organs and muscles, controlling functions such as heartbeat, sweating, breathing and digestion. It consists of the sympathetic nervous system, which prepares the body for action and the “fight-or-flight response”, where heart and breathing rates increase and blood vessels narrow, restricting the flow; and the parasympathetic nervous system, which causes the heart and breathing rates to slow, and blood vessels to widen, improving, blood flow (“rest and digest” response). It is thought that meditation may reduce activity in the sympathetic nervous system and increase activity in the para-sympathetic system. More than 50 clinical trials are under way looking at the effects of meditation in various conditions, or at how it may work.
Religion, as I understand what I am committed to, takes meditation beyond the therapeutic, puts us in touch with universal truths, spiritual truths. This does not, in my thinking, negate or diminish the therapeutic value. Quite honestly I’m glad of the therapeutic impact mediation has on the nervous system. The danger however for those following a spiritual course is to leave out or diminish the Preceptual/spiritual level.
Now, reflecting some more on the above scenario I see that it was predominately my body I was restraining. Stopping my limbs doing what my mind wanted to do. Interesting?
This is for the very many people, monastic and in the lay community, who are my guides and my refuge. Thank you.