This is something I work on daily… it is a large part of mindfulness and it opens our eyes to our own conditioning. We are always being bombarded with stimulus (environmental stimulus or stimulus from our own minds).
We immediately evaluate the stimulus as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. We then react to our evaluation with attraction, repulsion or indifference / disinterest. From the reaction, we act with body, speech or mind by going toward , moving away or ignoring the stimulus.
So it goes like this (usually within 1/2 of a second):
In the beginning stages of mindfulness, we pause before action and cultivate strength of mind. After more time in mindfulness practices, we can interrupt at the reaction stage so we can simply meet experience as it exists. This allows us to be with what is without analyzing it or turning it into something else. (I am a master at this!) And we can be non-defensive with an open readiness for life.
As you move about your week, notice how quickly the conditioned mind will respond. What can you do to slow this down? Try taking a breath and feel the raw immediacy of the moment, not your evaluation of the moment. In this way, (in the words of my teacher, Sarah Powers) we learn to respond rather than react. As I write this today, I know I have a long way to go. I am willing to offer up self-forgiveness and am willing to try again and again as I work my way along this path. I know it is worth the effort.