Throughout the day we are often on automatic pilot, reacting to events and to others in an unconscious way. It may be that we react to something someone said or did – like hearing a perceived criticism or being cut off in traffic. Our automatic response is to be angry or annoyed and to lash out at the other person either in word or action (or by sending that angry email response).
Tara Brach, in her meditation podcast, defines this reactivity as “reacting out of our habitual patterns without consciousness”. All day and every day we will find ourselves in a reactive pattern, being totally unaware of where we are operating from. Viktor Frankl reminds us that there is a space between stimulus and response and that we have the choice of whether we use the space to manage our response. He suggests that in the space lies freedom and choice – the opportunity to break free from reactive responses and to exercise conscious choice in how we respond.
People are becoming increasingly reactive because we are fast losing the capacity to be in the present moment – to respond to life with full awareness. The growth in the incidence and violence of “road rage” is evidence that people are reacting mindlessly when they experience some delay in traffic or are frustrated by the actions of another driver. We can act out of impatience rather than being patient and understanding that we are traffic too.
If we practice reflection on our daily activities, we can begin to notice how reactive we often are. It is a useful exercise to think about a single event where we were reactive and to capture the moment – thinking about what happened, how we felt both bodily and emotionally and how we responded. We can then focus on what we could have done differently to avoid being reactive.
When we are in the midst of a situation that is stimulating a negative response in us, we can use the S.T.O.P. practice to create some space for ourselves and better manage our response. Meditation practice can help us to more frequently access this process to pause and stop ourselves from being overly reactive.
Tara suggests that one of the easiest practices during meditation to become grounded in the present is to listen to the sounds that surround us – in a way that is neither interpreting or evaluating the sound. For example, you might be fortunate enough to tune into the sound of rain as it falls, noticing the ever-changing pattern and different impacts as it hits the ground or buildings.
As we grow in mindfulness through meditation practice and reflection, we can become more self-aware, more aware of our reactive responses and better able to consciously manage our response to life and the varying stimuli we encounter throughout the day and night.
By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)
Image source: courtesy of RobbinHiggins on Pixabay
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