May 2018 - That Space

That Space


Oh, to be a perfectly integrated human being: consistent in my behaviour, calm in my responses, true to my deepest values, unflappable on my serene journey through life with my inner and outer worlds in deepest harmony!

Instead I am human, changeable, easily disturbed, anxious, emotional and, at times, my inner and outer worlds bear almost no relation to each other. Basically, I'm fairly normal! But whoever thought that normal was what we should settle for, and who doesn't long to be their best self?

Not uncommonly I hear people say, “I shouldn't be feeling like this”. They become aware of some unpleasant topography in their inner geography, and judge it to be out of keeping with how it should be. They forget, however, that they have minimal control over this internal weather system, and criticise themselves for a rain shower, dark clouds or the occasional lightening strike. However, emotions are emotions, they come and they go, and they are never good or bad, positive or negative. Anger, contempt, fear, disgust, happiness, sadness, surprise – one can not judge them, in the same way as one cannot criticise the sun for shining or a cloud for blowing past.

It is good to observe our hidden inner world as we would a close friend or a beloved child – with kindness and compassion. Observe it and give a name to what is going on, but don't feel the need to say if you think it is right or wrong; it just is. The vital thing to discover, and the evolved way of living, is to understand that there is a space between what we feel and how we act. We can't control how we feel, but we do have power over the way we act. And how we act, by way of becoming a healthy and integrated human being, needs to be consistent with our deepest values.

Perhaps, therefore, the most important moment in all this comes not in naming our turbulent inner movements, or in controlling our behaviour as we act (or don't act) these emotions out, but in the space that lies between feeling and action. As the psychiatrist and Nazi death camp survivor Victor Frankl wrote in is book Man's Search for Meaning: '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 our freedom'.

If ever there were a place to cultivate self-compassion and love for others, it is sited here.

Nick Bird


This letter from Revd Nick Bird appeared in the May 2018 issue of The Grapevine