It sounds simplistic

Meditation can sound easy – the principles underlying it are straightforward and the techniques that you will learn here are uncomplicated.

Are they simple? Yes. Does simple mean “simplistic”? The answer is “no”. Although your mind is unbelievably complicated, the principles underlying those complicated workings are very simple.

1. There’s a gap between stimulus and response.

Between someone speaking harshly to us (the stimulus), and our getting angry (the response), there is a gap.

2. There is choice in the gap.

We can choose how to respond. We can choose to allow our anger to develop, or to exercise patience, for example. In every moment this choice exists. We don’t have an unlimited menu of responses to choose from, but there are always choices.

And the more we practice meditation the more choices we have available to us.

3. The choices we make matter.

Some of our emotional states cause us and others grief. Getting angry when it’s not justified, hating someone, escapism, putting ourselves down, worrying, denial — all of these attitudes impair our happiness by causing conflict in our own hearts, and disharmony in our relations with others.

Other emotional states, like kindness, love, empathy, patience, respect for ourselves and others, tend to enrich our lives. We can choose to cultivate these qualities.

4. We can only choose if we have awareness.

Awareness, or mindfulness, is necessary. We have to be “awake” to spot unhelpful emotional patterns emerging, and to exercise choice.

These principles are very easy to understand, but pretty challenging to put into practice.

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If anyone could suggest a meditation that would help me find the gap between stimulus and response – which seems nearly non-existent to me – I would be so grateful. I can’t seem to stop myself from reacting in anger, sometimes, and I feel so terrible afterwards.


Hi, Jamie.

The thing is to keep observing the feelings in your solar plexus. Quite literally there are parts of the brain that cannot communicate directly with each other, and that use ganglia in the gastrointestinal tract as a relay. Even if you don’t pay attention to those “gut feelings” your emotions are still being affected, which is why you suddenly find yourself being angry. You’ve missed all the signs that led up to the arising of the emotion. If you train yourself to pay attention to your gut feelings in a mindful way, the gap emerges. The amygdala — the part of the brain that causes the fight or flight reflex — is inhibited, giving you a chance to explore other responses to the unpleasant sensations that are arising in the gut.

It’s worth getting into a relaxed state, keeping your awareness focused on the solar plexus, and then calling to mind a series of memories or imagined situations that give rise, in turn, to pleasant, neutral, and unpleasant gut feelings. (Actually this is precisely what we do in stages two to four of the metta bhavana practice). When thoughts and stories arise based on those feelings, just let go of them and come back to your gut feelings. When those gut feelings are unpleasant, allow yourself to have compassion for yourself. You can direct thoughts of lovingkindness toward your solar plexus, just as if it were a suffering friend. I find this is always effective.


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