“Staying occupied is a socially sanctioned way of remaining distant from our pain.”―
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. – Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
The theater seats over a thousand. It isn’t full but it’s come pretty close. We sit together in near silence for a minute with our eyes closed. Inside this collective pause, we pull back from what Tara Brach calls “tumbling into the future.”
This is not a spirit circle at a Zen retreat center. This is parents, teachers, and students packed into a public high school auditorium. At the threshold of something new-but-not-new, the moment tilts. Surreal. A congressman from Ohio takes the stage and tells the story of finding his breath. He is one of several voices reminding us that snapping at our kids to pay attention doesn’t do any good until we teach them how to attend. As always, we’re on the hook to show what we tell.
As the parents, teachers, and neighbors of the kids who walk the halls here every day, we have to be willing to learn. A churning stress and a “trance of unworthiness” keeps us doing, striving, reacting, and fighting. It is up to us to release ourselves from it so we can show our children how to have a say in drawing the map of their own minds.
In a county whose schools always ranks near the top of any performance rating and in a region whose inhabitants are among the most highly educated and overcommitted in the nation, this breath is a call to action.
Or inaction, as the case may be.
Any kid that hasn’t learned the pressure is on by second grade figures it out when they go through the Advanced Academics Program screening. The test determines the quality of their schooling for the next six years and no doubt well beyond that. This workshop, Managing Stress Through Mindfulness, is the first of its kind here. Overdue, of course, and also right on time.
Our children struggle as we do. Our children learn to place their attention as we do (or don’t). It is possible that we don’t need to keep ourselves in the hot grip of imagined success and looming failure to drive us to a good life. We strain towards illusion and flee fear and get nowhere right. Caught in a Chinese finger-trap, we strive ourselves into a kind of frenetic paralysis.
The first step in cultivating creativity and possibly even a sense of belonging in this world is a not forward or backward. It is a step into space.
Over the edge is a place between stimulus and response where the pause quietly waits.