Between every stimulus and response there is a space – by Amjad Mohamed Saleem

All of us are on a journey trying to live our life from the inside out. Though our methods of transportation maybe different, we are all travellers on the same path towards spiritual enlightenment and happiness. The ultimate and most difficult lesson to learn on this journey is to understand our destination and the steps that are needed to get there.

We all know the story of how Sir Isaac Newton discovered gravity under an apple tree. This ‘eureka’ moment helped him to postulate that the Universe is actually made up of small and large objects that are in a constant ‘tug of war’ with each other, i.e. they are constantly attracted and repelled from each other. He called this theory ‘the theory of gravity’ which forms much of the basis of physics we learn in schools. However, after many centuries, Albert Einstein in trying to understand how gravity actually works noticed a small problem with the Newtonian Theory of Gravity which stated ‘that if one were to drop an Apple, it will move in a straight line toward the centre of the Earth’. The problem that Einstein noticed was that the Earth rotates around its axis. Thus according to Einstein, when one drops an apple, it does not just fall in a straight line, but would also rotate with the earth. This is analogous to dropping an apple from outside a fast moving car or within a fast moving car. If dropped outside a fast moving car, it would fall at an angle compared to it being dropped inside the car. Einstein went a bit further and postulated that since the earth moves around the sun, a falling apple would not only rotate with the earth (in an angular movement) but it would also move around the sun. So an alien in space would see the apple ‘moving’ in many directions and not just ‘falling’. This was the beginning of his general theory of relativity which stated that ‘what is observed is dependent on the reference point OR from where it is observed’. This means in the case of the Apple, if Jack was to drop an Apple, he would observe the apple falling relative to him.

So the first step in understanding this journey from inside out is that everything is relative.

Einstein also came up with his theory of Special Relativity which incorporates the principle that the speed of light is the same for all inertial observers regardless of the state of motion of the source ie E = mc2 which states that the speed of light is the fastest speed possible in the Universe. Calculations show that the light takes 8 minutes to reach the earth from the sun. So when we look at an object, we are looking at the light being reflected from that said object. Thus when we look at the sun, what we actually see is the light from the sun which has taken 8 minutes to reach us from the sun. Equally when we look at the stars at night, we are looking at them approximately a million years ago since this is how long it takes for light from the stars to reach us.

So what does this mean? You can never see objects like the sun in the ‘present-tense’, unless you touch it thereby eliminating the space between the objects (the observer and the observed). This was the basis for Einstein to link ‘space’ with ‘time’ which means that to completely describe an object or its state, we need to know both its space and time. So whatever we do is present, and all we observe is the past, i.e. it is gone to the past. So we are the only present and everything we observe is the past!

So the second step in recognising living inside out, is that whatever we are seeing that is taking place has to some extent already happened, and we are just seeing it now.

Newton’s third law explains about the ‘cause and effect’ theory which means that when we let go of the apple from a high place (cause), the Apple falls to the ground (effect). When the Apple hits the road hard (cause), it breaks up into many pieces (effect). So dropping an Apple is a ‘cause’. The apple falling is an ‘effect’ due to us dropping it. The apple breaking is an ‘effect’ of the ‘cause’ of hitting the ground. However, have you ever thought about questioning WHY the apple should fall? Why doesn’t it turn into a bird and fly off? After all the apple changing into a bird is also an ‘effect’ of the ‘cause’ of dropping the apple. Thus there is a ‘link’ between a cause and a specific effect. This link explains the ‘why’ which the famous philosopher Nietzsche more than 100 years ago, stated that we cannot explain the how and why this ‘link’ works the way it does and what links each cause with each effect.

So the third step is that there is a link between what has happened (‘effect’) and what has been done (‘cause’).

Here is an interesting conundrum. Let us say you and 2 friends go out for dinner. After dinner, your bill comes up to £25. Since there were 3 people, you each pay £10 to the waiter. The waiter returns with your change of £5. You decide to give the waiter a £2 tip for his wonderful service and each of you took back £1. So the question is: How much did you pay for the dinner? The answer is simple, since you gave £10 each and you took back £1, you paid £9 each (£10-£1). Simple, right? But wait a minute, there is a problem. If each person paid £9, therefore, the total paid by the 3 people is £27 (£9×3). And since you gave the waiter a tip of £2, therefore the total amount paid is £27 + 2 = £29. But you paid a total of £30. Where did the extra £1 go? Did the waiter steal it? Can you answer this supposed illogicality? Or is your mind just playing tricks with you?

So the fourth step in living inside out is that things are not as they seem and sometimes we see the world differently to how it appears.

So what do all these steps mean in contributing to a living inside out? Just like the world we observe, which has to be viewed with a clear vision, we will need clarity and a proper framework when we think or reflect on matters. We have to be aware of all opinion before developing our own, since all ideas are relative to a base and viewpoint from which they are all built and there are many bases available to us. We need to know how our idea is different to others and we need to know how to connect them with others within our knowledge. We should also be aware of the time and the space when our ideas were developed and its relevance to the present and in particular the future, since it is the future we are concerned about and not necessarily the present. We should be humble enough to acknowledge that for every cause, there is an effect and sometimes we make mistakes and our thinking process can sometime deceive us, i.e. there are times when we lie to ourselves!

In short these steps identify that living inside out is as much as the process as is the destination and it is important to focus on both. For those of you who have read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, the understanding of this destination is very simple: ‘Go; travel the world, look for the truth and the secret of life – every road will lead you to this sense of initiation: the secret is hidden in the place from which you set out’. Thus you find your destination only by rediscovering the essence of your own nature. The essence of your own nature is the ‘return to oneself’ with a consciousness of the other and a humility to recognise the steps needed to reach that destination.

A wise man once said, ‘Between every stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In those choices lie our growth and happiness.’

Such is the meaning of profound spirituality and the need to live inside out requiring man to acquire a force of being and doing. Hence within this space everyone is asked to take up a dialogue with The Most-High, a dialogue of intimacy, of sincerity, of love. Within this space is the horizon of all spirituality requiring man to acquire a force of being and doing, rather than to undergo despotic relentlessness of a life reduced to mere instinct. Within this space, we marry the purpose of our existence with the purpose of our subsistence. Living inside out, we must comprehend the message: You are indeed what you do with yourself. You are responsible for the actions you take.

Hence the steps towards living inside out and its destination is to serve humanity, those in need; those without! That purpose is to awaken our conscience in the proximity of the wounds and the injustices people face! That purpose is to move away from selfishness / greed and waste; to distance our selves from the darkest dimensions of our being, our violence, our jealousies, our superficialities. That purpose is to face our responsibilities with confidence and assurance
Thus responsibility is placed upon the shoulder of the individual to take the lead in becoming a true citizen of the country and of the world, where he / she rise above their narrow confines of individualistic concerns to face the broader concerns of all humanity and to redress the contradiction of society enabling people and their communities to live in dignity, peace and independence with social justice.
This contradiction of society will be redressed when all citizens come together confident in their universal principles; strengthened by their common values; they will be defenders of pluralism in their society and respectful of identities of others; they will take up the challenge of joining forces in a revolution of trust and confidence against the tide of discrimination and intolerance and poverty.

Amjad Mohamed Saleem
is the Manager of the Inclusion, Engagement and Protection (IPE) unit, tasked to implement the third strategic aim of IFRC’s Strategy 2020 – Promotion of Social Inclusion and a Culture of Non-Violence and Peace, and to support the youth and volunteering aspects of the third “Enabling Action” – Building Strong National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The IPE Unit works to support IFRC and National Societies to meet this overall objective with a focus on educating, empowering and enabling young people to be agents of change contributing towards making their local communities more peaceful, inclusive and resilient “where no one is left behind, no one is left out and no one feels unsafe”.


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