I’m not talking about the UK tube announcements but the gap between thought and action.
Thoughts flow consistently and so it might be difficult to imagine that there’s a gap, or a space, between thought. Thoughts are random and fast but if you were able to notice the gap, you might not get snagged on a particular thought. You wouldn’t keep firing up the same pathway and having the same type of thoughts either. And you wouldn’t obsess about a chocolate cake or the hospital results.
And, more importantly, you wouldn’t feel the need to take action on the thoughts you have.
The gap between thought and action
You know that you don’t act on all your thoughts, if you did, you’d be a whirling dervish, dancing here and there and never doing very much because you were following the next thought.
We cherry-pick what thoughts to take action on even if it doesn’t feel as if we do. I often put the kettle on to boil before I sit down to write and, every now and again, I remember that I want a drink but then I start thinking about the subject of thinking about things and the moment goes.
But there are some thoughts it seems as if I take immediate action on. If the doorbell rings, it feels as if I automatically rise from my seat and move towards the door to open it but it isn’t really automatic is it? The action feels automatic because I’ve performed it a thousand times before but if I thought it might be a salesperson or someone I didn’t want to speak to ringing the bell, I wouldn’t go to the door. I wouldn’t take automatic action.
Reaching for a chocolate or ordering wine in a bar can feel automatic, as if the choice wasn’t yours, it just happened. And this might be the case, you might have automatically reached for the chocolate or ordered the wine but what you do when you have the chocolate or the wine glass in your hand is up to you.
It’s the same with speaking harsh words to someone you care about. It might seem that the words came out of your mouth independent of thought but you know that can’t be the case. It feels like that because you didn’t pay attention to the gap.
What if you never notice the gap?
This is perfectly possible. You get so used to automatic action or unconsciously following thought that you might not notice the gap.
You might not notice this space because you live by experience, you are experiencing your thoughts in each moment and, as consciousness is experience, you may not consciously notice the gap. Each of us live by the form the thought takes and we’re not trained to notice the space before the form.
So how do you notice the space? How can you mind the gap?
Take a pause, a break. I’m not suggesting settling down with a KitKat like the advert tells us to, I’m talking about taking a breath. When you take a deep breath, it is probably the most present you are to yourself. Thought doesn’t stop when you take a big breath but you aren’t aware of it, you aren’t conscious of whatever thought flows through you in that moment.
Of course, you can’t experience a gap while you’re looking for it because you’re back into consciously noticing thought but if you take a breath you’re creating space for the gap to appear.
Think about when you feel urgent about something. It might be that you don’t think that you can lose weight on your own and you frantically google the newest diet book or you feel a little insecure and start online shopping.
But do you need something else out there? Do you need more knowledge or more things, is this going to help you to get to where you want to be? Or is this the time to trust yourself? To be still and listen. Not to your internal chatter. Not to argue yourself into doing or not doing. But listen to the silence.
This can be difficult to do at first. We’re so used to identifying with whatever thought has caught our attention that we aren’t sure how to stop. Some people meditate to feel this space but that can be tricky if you’re in the middle of a coffee shop or wine bar but you know that you do experience this gap at times, it might be if you’re out for a walk and you let your thoughts wander rather than noticing them all or in the shower when all you’re aware of is the experience of the water on your skin. The silence that you experience may just be a nano second and slip by you unnoticed because you have more important things to think about and, after all, who notices the experience of nothing?
Noticing nothing can change everything
So why is noticing the gap so important?
It’s so important for our own wellbeing. To step off the hamster wheel for a second or two. To regain equilibrium. To remember that we’re not our thoughts.
And on a practical level, it helps you get you to where you want to be. Emotionally and physically. If you want to exercise, take a pause, take a breath before you automatically snooze your alarm and get up fifteen minutes earlier. If you want to lose weight, take a breath and pause before you reach for the chocolate bar or cake.
And if you do find yourself with the glass of wine or chocolate bar in your hand, then take a breath. Access the space between thought and action and decide if you want to have this? If the next thought is that you’ve already bought the chocolate or the wine, so you have to have it, ask yourself if this is true?
The more that you access the space, the more you’ll see that there is no need for you to take action on the thought. And, the thought that you imagine you’re taking action on, has already gone. It’s already disappeared.
So instead of taking action on the vapour trail of the last thought and, as you have no idea what the next thought is going to be, you can mind the gap.