Why You Wait Before Forming An Opinion

In Mindfulness in Plain English, Bhante Henepola Gunaratana explains a well-known Zen analogy and its connection to meditation:

“After sitting motionlessly, close your eyes. Our mind is analogous to a cup of muddy water. The longer you keep a cup of muddy water still, the more the mud settles down and the water will be seen clearly. Similarly, if you keep quiet without moving your body, focusing your entire undivided attention on the subject of your meditation, your mind settles down and begins to experience the bliss of meditation.”

The Stoics certainly would have agreed, even if they weren’t actively chasing the “bliss of meditation.” Again and again, the Stoics warn against the dangers of our immediate, emotional reactions to events, since these split-second judgments can so often be based on a less-than-clear view. Which is why Epictetus talks about waiting before forming an opinion. As he writes:

“Don’t let the force of an impression when it first hits you knock you off your feet; just say to it, “Hold on a moment; let me see who you are and what you represent. Let me put you to the test.”

This is a version of letting the mud settle in your cup so that clarity might emerge from the disruptions caused by the swirl of dilution. Today, see if you can practice this. When things happen, don’t go with your first opinion or lock in your understanding of them based on your initial reaction. Let there be a pause. Put your impressions up to the test, even if that test is only the passage of time. You will see things more clearly this way.

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