“Between stimulus and response is a space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and freedom”
Victor Frankl, “Man’s Search for Meaning”
Whenever life has handed me adversity, I’ve always heard my Daddy’s voice in my head. Telling me that “he didn’t raise any quitters.” He raised us to be strong, resilient humans who stayed the course. He was our Vince Lombardi. If he heard me say I wanted to quit, he’d be flippin’ his shit in heaven right now and sending down lightning.
My family, we’re sports people. I was raised in a family of athletes and coaches; where courage, fortitude and strength of character were largely measured and developed through perseverance and dedication on the field, in the gym, in school, or on some course somewhere. Sports was Daddy’s refuge from a drunk, abusive father, where he could be free to strive without fearing another beating for failing, and he passed his love of them on to us. My family was a place where being a girl in the sixties didn’t mean less was expected of you on the field or off. That was empowerment. Both my brothers were great athletes. My Mom and Dad helped start both football and baseball leagues in our community that are still operating today… and we all participated. I married an elite athlete who excelled at endurance sports. My girls were both high level athletes in multiple sports. I have kept at sports my whole life, sometimes past the point where most would consider me “too old to do that”.
Sports have served me and my family, very well. No question.
In my childhood world, you kept swinging at that ball til you hit it. You didn’t cry and give up because something was hard. You kept getting back on that balance beam no matter how shit-scared you were or how banged up your shins were, and kept at that trick ‘til you nailed it. You kept running when you thought you couldn’t take one more step. Of course, this is the stuff of “character building”. Of stretching limits in a good way. Sports made me a better human. It has saved my genetically doomed heart from an early grave. I watched in awe as sport took my ex-husband to limits of his body and mind that I didn’t think possible (and took both of us to some pretty damned fine places on this planet in the process, might I add). Sports gave my girls the direction, confidence, purpose, focus and the stick-to-it-iveness that has spilled over into every other aspect of their lives. It gave my oldest the perseverance and certainty to keep sitting in the woods til the last hour before dusk on the last day of deer season, and finally land herself that ten-pointer. To believe in her big dreams and talent until she only had 2$ left in her bank account and a broken down truck before her career took off. Sports, I believe, is what gave my youngest the courage to move across Canada and away from us, to ride the big parks with the big boys fearlessly and in spite of injury, and get herself a ton of wins, and a notice and a spread in Snowboard Canada as a rider to be contended with. Then later, I believe that same background is what got her through almost 30 hours in horribly painful labour without giving up to a C-section, to bring her beautiful daughter into the world, her way. She was a damned FORCE. Without sports teaching them the whys of staying at it, would my daughters be these tough, resilient, determined women today?
So why, then, am I talking about quitting?
Enter my yogi, Carol. Enter a Master Class Yoga Series on Enduring Fall with Grace. Enter Victor Frankl. Enter… space.
My sports takeaway had always been that you kept your head down, cowboy-ed up and kept going, no matter what. If at first you don’t succeed…yadda, yadda, yadda.
“Breathe into the space between
To return to your power”
These words were part of the opening meditation of Carol’s first class in this series. She introduced us to Victor’s writing. I stopped cold in my metaphorical tracks. Say what?! Take time to BREATHE before going on? That’s not what builds champions, is it? He who hesitates is lost, as the old adage goes, right? And yet, here she was, telling me to just stop. Just stop, and breathe. She talked about Victor and his journey through Auschwitz as a survivor, by managing his responses to what life threw his way. How he built an entire school of psychology upon managing the space between stimulus and response behaviours. I’d like to say that angels sang and a heavenly light shone down on me in that moment, but c’mon, we are talking yoga class on a Wednesday night in Bowmanville…not Jesus and Moses in the holy land.
A small inward smile of knowing (and the simultaneous terrifying feeling of maybe becoming completely untethered to my basis for, well, everything) was the only demarcation of this “aha” moment.
Suddenly…so many things that had been suggested to me (that of course I ignored thinking I knew better) began to make more sense. I could see why some things remained elusive to me in my stubborn perseverance on a path, in the name of character. How it was OK, in fact, preferred, to take a hot minute to regroup when faced with adversity and struggle. How, sometimes, it is more powerful to stop pushing, instead of just pushing forward no matter what. To do nothing instead of something for a while. I was learning the value in… quitting.
Victor (and Carol!) both contend that we are at our best when we take the time to breathe into the space between stimulus and response. That our growth, our power in human dynamics, comes from the ability to take all the time we need to respond, or even not respond, to outward stimuli in our lives. That we always have a choice.
Well now, ain’t that some shit!? I can choose. I should choose. I am not bound to react in any particular way to anything, or to even react at all…not unless it is my choice to. And by simply not keepin’ on full steam like a bull in a china shop (thanks, Nana Sylvia, for that quote)…that I might get further, faster.
SHUT. UP. Mind, blown.
So here I am… a newborn quitter. Don’t strike me dead, Daddy….
I am choosing to quit trying to force a relationship when it means trying to control the actions of others, no matter how much I want that relationship to heal or the direction I want it to go.
I am choosing to quit behaviours, that unlike repeated practice swings at a baseball, if repeated over and over, are not building skill… they are perpetuating a cycle of negative stimulus-response that do not yield the desired outcome. Sometimes, if you do the same thing over and over expecting a different result, it’s the definition of insanity, not the definition of persistence. Sometimes… you need to stop, and take a breath (or several)… and assess what isn’t working before carrying on.
Come to think of it, that applies in sports too, really. If your swing was consistently flawed and you kept practicing that, you wouldn’t be “hanging in there”, you’d just be learning a bad habit. Your coach would stop you, correct the issue, and then get you to try a new approach. If you injured your rotator cuff, the pitching coach would not say “suck it up and keep pitching”. You would be sent off for assessment, and rest days. Maybe change your wind up. You aren’t a “quitter”. You are developing into a better pitcher by making adjustments.
If I want to build, or re-build, a relationship where the other party is not receptive to what I’m offering right now, for whatever reasons they have. Then, yep, my best response is to quit. Not to give up – that is different. But to quit my approach, and step back. To create, well, the space between. Not to walk off the field, but to simply step aside and sit on the bench for a bit.
To stand in that space between, breathe, and know that the right responses will develop, in time, in ways that are in tune with my values and character – and maybe theirs too. If I sit still and wait for them. To allow the other person that same space in which to take their own breaths and assess their own goals and where I may or may not fit into them. To live in the light of the relationships that are working for a while, to let the gifts they bring point me towards what will work with the ones where I’m not doing so well.
Here comes that sun again
That means another day
Without you my friend
And it hurts me
To look into the mirror at myself
And it hurts even more
To have to be with somebody else…
…With so many people
To love in my life,
Why do I worry
But you put the “happy”
In my “ness”
You put the good times
Into my fun
And it’s so hard to do
And so easy to say
But sometimes, sometimes
You just have to walk away”
Ben Harper, “Walk Away”
If I choose to quit trying to make my life run a certain course, and stop to breathe, be still and listen to the voice of God, or the voice of my soul, or the voices of my people; let them collectively reveal the direction of my next steps, I am not abdicating control of my life direction, rather, I am taking pause for wise council towards paths that might be my best choice, that maybe I wouldn’t have otherwise seen because I was running so fast down the wrong path in the name of “not quitting”.
That truly is taking back my control… by letting go.
Every sport has an off-season, in which to rebuild, re-focus…and rest. Every athlete has rest days built into their training regimen….often in those last few critical days before a major endeavour that could set the course of the rest of their career.
An Olympic runner does not put in the highest mileage training days the week ahead of the event. They rest, eat well, focus inwardly on getting their head right.
Sometimes, when it’s the fourth quarter, and you’re behind by 45 points, and it’s just week 3…you take out your starters, put in the backup quarterback and D line…and you let the game go where it will.
Sometimes…you’ve got to quit the game, to save the season. I realize now, Daddy probably knew that one too. Now it is my turn to learn, as Kenny Rogers sang so famously, to “know when to hold ‘em, and know when to fold ‘em”. To just breathe, and let those answers reveal themselves, in the space between.
I’m a 64 year old aging hippie with a sarcastic tongue and out of control ginger hair. I am passionate in advocating for women “of a certain age”, especially we single ones, because we aren’t quite dead yet, in spite of the fact that we are often largely invisible and made to feel redundant on many levels. I hope to make you think, make you laugh, and mostly, feel like no matter where you are in life, you are never alone, and whatever dumb thing you think is going to sink you, won’t. Because heaven knows if that were true, I wouldn’t be here.