Between Stimulus and Response

Every once in a while one hears a simple statement, the truth of which is so strikingly apparent one wonders at how often it is ignored. The statement, which I read in a Buddhist magazine is this:

Between stimulus and response, there’s choice.

For many people, including the person who wrote the article the contained the line, the idea that one can choose whether and how to respond to a stimulus is a radical one. We so often behave as if there is no choice, reacting automatically to whatever the stimulus is.

When we react without choice, we react without wisdom, and we react without the benefit of God’s grace. And we know the risk when that happens: How many times do we react automatically – particularly when the stimulus in question is something negative (for example, someone criticizing us or otherwise saying or doing something we don’t like), and then later wish we could have the reaction back?

So it may be a simple truth, but it is also an important lesson to learn. And I think part of the benefit of a regular prayer practice is that a habit of contemplation helps teach us that there is space between action and reaction. There is space for wisdom, for grace, for choice.