The Universe Within

I believe that between impulse and action is a universe. It’s inspired by Viktor Frankl’s quote, “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.”

I paraphrased his profound words not out of disrespect but rather to capture as sincerely as possible my experience of trying to live his quote. So, I chose the words that better reflect my experience.

Impulse, action and universe as preparation for stimulus, response and space

Stimulus is defined as a change that takes place in an environment that causes the brain to take action.  Whereas impulse is an electric current that runs through the nerve cell to carry a message from one place to the other. Both are psychological terms and not typically used when describing one’s experience, however, impulse seems more relatable. Maybe this is because it is more closely associated with action in everyday life.

Likewise, the word action is, (again, in my experience) a more accurate descriptor of what takes place following an impulse. Action, unlike response, could be either a reaction or a response. Whereas, response does not. The word response implies some degree of intentional control. And as much as I’d like to say that I respond more than I react, that’s not reality!

And then there’s my use of the word universe instead of space. Space is emptiness which in this context implies presence. But I’m no Buddha and while sometimes I have fleeting moments of presence, more often, my inner awareness seems more like a mix of emptiness and materiality. If I am able to pause between impulse and action my inner world is of things and no-things. It is a universe.

An impression of my inner universe.

A universe within

My earliest memory of being aware of the universe between impulse and action was on the playground in grade school. Two boys got into a fight at recess. Within minutes, the other kids raced to see what was happening. Some cheered them on, others watched in silence, and a few joined in. I can still see fists and legs jutting out from the cluster of chaos accompanied by shouts so loud passersby stopped at the fence to catch a glimpse. Sitting on the bench directly opposite I remember wanting to go with the other kids, not to see what was going on (in fact, I didn’t want to see it,) but to belong. But equally strong was an urge to make them stop. To take a stand. Caught between these two impulses, I didn’t move off the bench. In fact, I couldn’t.

Years later I learned this is what psychologists refer to as a fight, flight or freeze response to fear. And while it probably was a response to fear in the form of freezing, and therefore no indication of moral strength, it was a moment that left a lasting impression. As the chaos in the world around me unfolded I became aware of the chaos inside me. This left an impression of the possibility of being aware of two realities – outer and inner – at the same time. Perhaps a very early stepping stone to what Viktor Frankl referred to as choice.

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