In the Gap Between Stimulus and Response is Where Real Love Occurs


I’ll meet you there (to riff on Rumi).

Or better yet: Start meeting your partner there.

Choice is sexy. When partners choose when and where and how they want to have sex, that is sexy. When they make a choice to engage in sex and make a choice as to how to engage in sex and make choices as to what to do in sex–what to try, what to touch, what to say–that is sexy.  When they realize that life is fleeting and that they will both one day die, and choose to love and appreciate and forgive each other more because of it–that is sexy.

We live in a world of people who are asleep–sleepwalking. Not making reflective deliberate intentional choices but running on autopilot–the autopilot of habit, the autopilot of feeling & moods (unless their moods are self-selected and chosen, similar to the way one can learn to choose one’s attitude).

Moods are reactive, epiphenominalistic, determined. Constantly going with the flow of one’s moods indicates an absence of self, of core self, of solid principled self. It means an external locus of control. It means that it is the environment and not oneself that has control over oneself. So mood is an abnegation of self and control and responsibility. Being awake may mean going with the flow and even choosing to go with the flow. But it also means perhaps trying to steer or direct or create the flow, which are also all to some extent in our capacity.

Choice involves higher and newer parts of the brain. Mood doesn’t. Mood relies on ancient reptilian parts. Everyone can be a reptile. It’s what we’re born as. And it’s what some of us never want to grow out of or go beyond–trousered or skirted lizards. Not everyone can make choices–other than relinquishing making choices.  Not everyone can actually realize that there is almost always–ALWAYS–a gap between stimulus & response, between input and output, between mood and doing and thinking things that will either increase, decrease, or maintain a given mood. Or attitude. The gap is there. That’s a huge part of what it means to be present, mindful, aware, self-aware–to be aware that we can decide how we want to respond, that we can decide to open and give of ourselves during a sexual encounter or close ourselves off, that we can engage in conscious deliberate sex and focus on both self and other, or we can engage in autopilot go with the flow or mood sex. We can challenge the status quo or go along with it and reinforce it.

It’s fine to do this (go with the flow of good moods) when things are going well in a relationship.

It’s a huge part of the problem to go with the flow of moods this when things are not going well in a relationship, because the moods that one will be going with will be negative as well.

Start making the choice to wake up. Not everyone does. Most people sleepwalk through their lives, largely unaware of themselves and their own deeper motivations and the deeper implications of what they are doing or of how they are living. Being awake means being aware, constantly. The moment one is unaware, one is asleep. Going with the flow or mood means sleepwalking. If one is only aware that one is going with the flow or that things depend on one’s mood, one is still asleep, because one is not awake to the possibility of choosing one’s mood and that how one thinks about, conceptualizes, perceives, behaves, affects one’s moods, alters one’s moods, modulates and mitigates one’s moods.

There’s no being awake without being aware of this. There’s no being awake without being consistently aware of this & constantly making choices about it. Why be yet another reactive creature deluding itself that it is awake? The world is full of (and has been overrun by) creatures such as these, many of them potentially human, but who have not yet made the decision to be so–to wake up and be so. There’s no being awake without at the very least realizing that there is almost always a gap between stimulus and response, and that that gap is what makes us most human. Anyone and any living creature can just go along with the flow and go from stimulus to response without choice, refection, awareness, deliberation. Only a fully fledged sentient self-aware human being can think about the flow, realize that there is a flow, be aware that there is flow, make decisions about the flow, realize that there are other possible flows and ways of flowing, challenge the flow (or the status quo), swim against the flow, swim sideways to the shore and away from the flow.

In that gap between stimulus and response we can turn the tide. In that gap we can make heaven of hell, or at least make the beginning of something more heavenly from something that is or has turned hellish.

Look around you today. Look at yourself throughout the day today:

How many people do you see who are reslly awake?  Who are deeply aware and attentive and present; who are making deliberate choices of who to be and how to respond?

And how many people are just going along with the flow, convention? And how many people are rebelling against it?

And how many are trying to become more aware of it and awake to it and better understand it?

To be alive is to be aware!

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About John

I am a married, 46-year old, Midwesterner, with four children. My primary interest is in leading a very examined and decent and Loving life; my interests that are related to this and that feed into this include (and are not limited to) -- psychology, philosophy, poetry, critical thinking, photography, soccer, tennis, chess, bridge.
This entry was posted in Character, Conscious Love, Intimacy, Intimate Relationships, Love, Love is a Choice, Love is a Decision, Love is Not a Feeling, Mature Love, Mental Health, Mindfulness, Personal Growth, Perspective, Real Love, Self-Awareness, The Examined Life, Truth, Waking Up, What is Love? and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to In the Gap Between Stimulus and Response is Where Real Love Occurs

  1. I love this! So many people think “going with the flow” is an awareness and it isn’t at all! It is sleepwalking! Being present is much harder… it takes work and practice… and this opened my eyes on how to use that in a relationship. Thank you my friend!

    • John says:

      You are welcome. And I agree with what you wrote, Muse! — going with the flow often is sleepwalking, unless it’s a deliberate intentional choice. And being present is difficult — it does indeed take work and practice. I am happy for you that you found these ideas helpful! Good on ya!

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