In this time of continued physical (social) distancing, it seems pertinent to circle back to other distances, like the distance between reaction and response.
When I first started exploring increasing the distance between my reaction to
circumstances and my response, I was startled at my "fail rate". I knew I wanted to cultivate more patience, more thoughtful, respectful action from myself, but the same knee-jerk behaviors kept pouring out.
It's not enough to intend. We must act.
I started with my breath. I've consciously incorporated a practice I call Fill My Bowl. I take three, meaningful, deep breaths throughout the day.
In my work life, as a facilitator, it signals to all in the group that we are transitioning. It gives the room a moment to absorb where we are in the process and to prepare for the next step. In my life, adding in some conscious breathing has offered the same transitional time and space to shift from one activity to the next.
In relationships, taking a few conscious breaths before responding makes all the difference. When I am mindful enough to do it, I listen more deeply to what the person I'm in relationship with (lover, children, friends, colleagues) is saying, and to what they need. In other words, I'm able to focus on what they are expressing, their body language, tone of voice, kinetic energy, and eye contact. Instead of centering the conversation on myself, my reaction, and my needs, I actively listen to theirs. Resources for active listening
After listening, I continue breathing. Thinking. Hearing what my head, heart, and gut have to say. Then, thoughtfully, I respond.
This may seem like an odd way to slow the pace. Sure, at first. But, over time, I am more comfortable taking the time and space to consider my words. Words matter. Particularly with children.
And, with practice, all things get easier. Awkward conversations are now less fraught. In fact, I welcome them. I learn from every challenging conversation. They help me grow.
I hope you are having a lot of awkward conversations these days about privilege, your own racism, systemic racism, and what you can do to stand up for BIPOC in your own life.
No? Get to it.
Talk to people who don't look like you, don't think like you, don't work like you, don't eat like you, don't talk like you, don't believe like you. Practice active listening. Have awkward, beautiful conversations.
Don't forget to breathe.
Fill your bowl to activate your internal braking system. Taking three deep breaths activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS), or internal “brake”. In moments of acute anxiety, there is no better remedy than a biological brake. Research shows that high PSNS/”Brake” is associated with happiness, resilience in the face of stress, and childhood cognitive performance. Source
1. Create a bowl shape with your hands. As you take a deep breath, expand your bowl. As you exhale, shrink it. Repeat for two more deep breaths.
2. Now, try it standing up. Yup, three more breaths.
What do you notice about your state of mind? What do you notice about your body? Do you feel any different after taking a few deep breaths? What has changed?
3. Take this method on a walk. Add it to your day, whenever it comes to mind. If you notice yourself feeling anxious, stressed out, angry, or sad - or any kind of way you want to shift - fill up your bowl and take three deep breaths.