My first meditation retreat took place during Canada Goose breeding season. For 10 days, the rural 10-acre property was shared uneasily by a dozen or so geese that were convinced they were under attack and about 30 meditators who were literally sworn to not kill anything while there.
Every time meditators would walk by a goose nest — which was regularly, because they made their nests right next to the footpaths — the goose would inevitably arise and make a show of hissing, wing-spreading, and occasional bluff-ful advancement.
Two or three times a day, while we’d be sitting in the meditation hall in silence, a goose battle would erupt outside. All of my attention would be drawn to the sounds and images coming to mind from those battles.
At first I was frustrated and angry about this. I was here to meditate, and these geese were breaking my concentration, dammit.
But by a handful of days in, I had a very different way of looking at it. These geese are utter slaves to their ‘emotions’. A goose is sitting on her nest, and some other goose flies up. I imagine she feels (though obviously couldn’t name it) some physical sensations like a rising hotness in the chest, a certain bend to the thoughts. And the goose, unlike us, has no distance between that stimulus and her response. She must now go have some painful, dangerous and dramatic fight.
And the whole point of the thing — at least, a core part — is that we have choice. We don’t have to react, slaves to our instincts and impulses. We can create some space between that stimulus and our response. If we do that, it’s no longer a reaction. It’s a response.
Responses can be powerful. You bring your wisdom. You have the option to react just the way you would have. But you also have the option to respond in some totally different way.