The Space of Other Possibilities
By Jim Pescud
More often than not we live our life through our thoughts. We can be so taken in by our thoughts that we lose contact with our whole being – our body, our environment, with the earth we inhabit.
Let’s be clear, there is nothing wrong with thoughts at all, they are essential for navigating our way through life. However we mostly have a mistaken idea of what thoughts actually are. This distorted view of the nature of thoughts is the source of our stress. The level of stress we experience is directly related to our perceptions of our self within a perceived situation.
Thoughts are just thoughts. They are our particular version of ‘‘reality’’ at any given point in time. Thoughts may seem to us to be reality itself, but this is a delusion which we can easily see for ourselves. Our thoughts, views, attitudes (whatever word you want to use) towards a particular situation can and do change.
From personal experience I can pick any number of things I had a strong opinion about a year ago, or even a week ago, and my thoughts and emotional responses to these things, to a greater or lesser extent, will almost always be different now. The anger I felt towards someone I had an argument with last week will most probably have reduced, or changed to disinterest, amusement or embarrassment at my response, or even compassion towards the other person.
How is it that I can go from feeling angry towards someone one day to feeling compassion towards them the next? I had an argument with them, I was angry, so shouldn’t I always feel anger towards them? This was the ‘‘reality’’ of the situation and therefore by definition it shouldn’t change. Of course, this is not how life works. We have changed, we have a different mind state from the one we had during the argument. We have had time to reflect on the event and on the other person. Any number of factors are at play which are the material for who we are right now, in contrast to who we were a few days ago. Thoughts and views are not ‘‘reality’’, they are simply a perceptual position in a moment of time, subject to change like everything else.
The ego welds us to what we think. What we think and believe are used by the ego as the building blocks of our persona, it’s a kind of ‘‘selfing’’ process. When thoughts are attached to our self- concept, (and most of our thoughts are), they are coloured and blinkered by the agenda of ‘‘selfing’’, which means we are less able to deal with life as it actually presents itself.
However, there is a way thoughts can be used which involves less ego attachment. This is to regard our thoughts/opinions as being provisional.
When we hold our thoughts to be provisional we are decoupling them from our concepts of self – of who we are, or who we think we are. When our thoughts are constantly used for psychological and emotional self-construction and self-maintenance, the result is rigidity, whereas seeing our thoughts/opinions as being provisional allows us to flow with life. Thoughts then have the freedom to be more innovative, using more of our intuition. They are free to move depending on circumstances at any particular moment.
It is possible to align with this reality of change, to be consciously at one with it and flow with it as opposed to being overwhelmed by it. It is only our way of thinking and, more importantly, the degree of reality we give to our thoughts, which cuts us off from the flow of life and results in our feeling distressed.
Mindfulness provides us with the space to work with the constancy of change. Instead of being governed by the priorities shaped by our thoughts and emotions, we become aware that all is flux, all is flow. We don’t need to be nailed by this moment, we are so much freer than that.
Instead of looking from our thoughts and emotions we need to start looking at our thoughts and emotions. This objective perceptual stance is the essence of mindfulness.
I want to offer a technique I have found very useful. Practice it any time, but especially when you find yourself in a difficult situation, such as in an argument. I call it the “space of other possibilities”. Through this technique you can give yourself space to make conscious creative choices, rather than simply being reactive.
It is important to use the body component, that is, the “stepping out” movement in this technique. By including a physical dimension in the process you included yourself bodily, not just your thoughts. For a change in perspective to occur, it helps to involve the body in some way. After all, you are not just your head and your thoughts, though we often live as if we were.
First of all, notice when you are arguing with someone, or even better, before it becomes an argument, but is at a stage where emotions are heightened and you have noticed that you are becoming upset. Yes, this is a mindful practice. So you need to be aware of the physical sensations of getting upset appearing in your body and the related thoughts appearing in your mind.
When you become aware you are upset through observing your body and thoughts, acknowledge to yourself that you don’t wish to be in this state. Say to yourself that you are presently standing in the “space of argument”. Imagine a small circle on the ground encompassing you, which you label the “space of argument”, then physically step out of that space. This step need be only a few inches – just a small shuffle, the other person won’t even notice. You have now stepped into the “space of other possibilities”.
The act of stepping out with awareness can be felt in the body – as a feeling of relief and spaciousness. From this new space, open to the possibility of not arguing. You have provided yourself with emotional space – the opportunity to consciously choose. This sense of, or we could even say energy of, spaciousness is where you can now come from to connect with the other person. This connection can even be a sense of loving kindness or compassion where you are willing to look beyond the perspective of your individual ego and really try to see things from the other person’s point of view. Alternatively you could tell them that you don’t wish to argue and get upset, and then quietly walk away.
If you decide that you do in fact want to get upset and argue, then you need to physically step back into the “space of argument and upset”. The choice is yours. This is personal responsibility on a grand scale.
Why do I say “on a grand scale”? Because you are now aware of what you are doing!
ARTICLE - The Space of Other Possibilities
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