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. – Victor Frankl
Metanoia was the word the professor shared that day; a transformative change of heart he went on to say. A demonstration using sixteen blank pieces of paper we scribed; on each one those things that mattered most in our lives. Characteristics of who we feel we are that we would like to keep and those people who are our dearest heartbeats. Material possessions we perceive we need to survive and our bucket list goals we desire to experience before we die.
Piece by piece, stimulus created them being taken away. Or even greater, we had to decide as we stood in a suddenly changed space. This was paper and make believe, or so it would seem. Each of us taken to a reality that was not a dream. A simulated exercise in “what if” and “what about” and how life can change outside of our control. A realness to knowing in a moment we could lose what we wish to hold. Layer by layer we looked within at each choice we faced. Were we gaining growth and freedom, or was all that made life worth living slipping away? Were there things that suddenly didn’t matter as much as we once thought they might. After all, would it be so bad if the vehicle was gone and we had to ride a bike? Would a characteristic of who we are matter if life suddenly removed a loved one from our view? Would bucket list goals or our home still be worth clinging to?
It was a powerful exercise not far from the natural ebb and flow of life. Unexpected moments that whisper you now have a choice which staircase to climb. One staircase might look steeper than another, or one may not appear to have as many steps. Both have a thin line as a guard rail, a tiny woven thread. The thread is mighty, yet fragile; each sturdy yet each could break. More uncertainty than knowing upon standing at the base. Each also whisper it will be okay this way, but neither are fully revealing in which is the better stairs to take. The thread is also connected to what is not seen. No choice is made without an unraveling and a reconnecting.
In that moment standing at the base of two stairwells, perhaps your heart is wishing someone would tell. Should I take the one on the left or the one on the right? Which one will be the best climb? Or maybe you stand with a foot on the first step of one, eager to start to the next. But old habits cause you to pause a moment in doubt is the other one actually best? Or maybe you are ready to race up the one that looks to be the easiest to the top. No need to pause, no need to stop. But then you pause and ponder is easiest the right choice to make for the best growth you seek? Maybe the better route to freedom is the one that will require digging deep.
I started to think about the moon at night and the beginning of each new day. How one shines in the dark and the other is brightest among white and blue space. I thought about an analogy of how the moon holds space in the darkest of times, how it slowly moves as guardian through the night. As I lay under the stars in the tent the night the moon its fullest view, each time I opened my eyes it was there, just a few inches it had moved. Each glance a reminder it was laying watch over Ginger and me, back I would drift each time into peace-filled dreams. The next morning the moon glistened against the pond as it prepared to go to sleep. It knew we would be in good hands as the sunrise peeked through the trees.
Dark the moon’s stimulus to rise and shine. A perfect rhythm time after time. The moon may choose to be a half, a quarter, or hide behind a cloud or two. But always it responds with what it is meant to do. I anticipate it is an internal knowing the moon must appear every night. A trust it has that now it is right. The sun, too, stimulated by the moon closing it eyes. The sun also trusting that now it is time. Both know the greatest growth comes in fulfilling what they feel called to do, even if external forces try to challenge how well they shine through. Cloudy skies, rain like tear drops, and even a jet plane or two. Each of these elements that sometimes block views. Yet like a metronome that never misses a beat, like the sand that falls through an hour glass steadily, the moon shines in the ebbs while the flow is the suns greet. Or, perhaps it is the other way around, that the darkness is actually the light. That in the greyest skies is our chance to respond with greatest might. In that space where we have the strongest power to make a choice how to respond, perhaps our best freedom is in the dark when we can’t see which step to put our foot on.
We relish the sunshine, our footsteps lighter when it shines. Why do we not feel the same lightness when the moon begins to rise? Sure, some look forward to a wish upon a star, or the unending flashes of lightening bugs dancing across a yard. And some study the phases of the moon and understand meanings to each shape. Some relish a telescope to look at planets light years away. Yet, for many dark and fear walk hand in hand. That wish upon a star is hurry up morning sun with new beginnings as fast as you can. What if we let the sun rejuvenate as it always does, but also let the moon and night blanket us in its love? What if we trusted that the ebb also contained gifts for us to enjoy? Would we stand in that space longer before making a choice? Once again, I think of the power of opposites to teach us what we most seek, like how we can’t know the incredible feeling of winning something without knowing the immense pain of defeat. Or how we can’t truly appreciate the warmth of the sun without first knowing what it feels to be cold. Or how we don’t find wisdom in youth; it comes as we are blessed growing old.
Back to that staircase that rises to our left and to our right. In that space, which step to take, which choice? Is it the one with the least amount of stair steps or the one that rises further than we can see? Is it the one that looks steeper or the one that appears at first glance to be simple and easy? And what if, by chance, the one that looks like the top is right “there” is actually a landing and beyond that is more stairs? What if the longer staircase actually has a doorway right “there”? And what if those “more” stairs take you in a circle bringing you back to where you now stand? Because you made a choice, but you haven’t yet realized for you there is a bigger plan?
Decisions, decisions in that space you stand every day. Opportunity to choose left or right every moment that comes your way. Only you can know if you should travel left or right or stay quietly in place. Only you know what is best for you in the choices you make. Whatever you decide may you always follow your heart and trust the ebb and flow of life. If you follow your truth, the right step you will always find. My other wish for you is that you also know there is no wrong staircase. Each one promises the opportunity to learn and grow with every step you take. My encouragement as you look up at each set of stairs is that you make a choice not of fear, nor of the distance that seems so far. The staircase to travel will be the one that speaks to your heart.