Monday, April 19, 2010

Reducing Reactivity: No goal, No Judgment

Doing it my way, not-so-subtly pushing for my point of view, feeling it as a negative when asked if I am going to do what I am already doing, or being told or asked to do something differently. All these situations depend on ego and reactivity and are traps that very often make for serious suffering in the form of hurt feelings, resentments, rejection. The self takes a beating whether building up in resistance or tearing oneself down with criticism.

What is the point of forcing opinions on someone else? Why the tendency to illuminate each intersection of a disagreement or take someone else's point of view as a personal attack? How is it a benefit to resist the way someone else does something or to feel that they must change what they are doing to meet one's own ideals? Is it really worth the conflict and bad feelings of arguing over doing something a certain way? This way of being comes up over doing dishes, planting seeds, organizing children's schedules or the classic squeezing the toothpaste scenario. Of course it potentially infects anything where individuals cross paths, coordinate actions, rely upon each other, or find themselves interacting. Strangers, intimates and family members, co-workers, anyone can be the source of this reactivity or the spark that ignites it in ourselves.

For me, a bigger perspective really helps. I am learning to be much more effective and generalized about releasing the reactive thought before I act upon it. A friend was just talking to me about how important it is to allow oneself to pause, giving just that instant of time in which to breathe, to adjust, to release, to see the pattern before plunging irreparably into the mess. It's not uncommon as a strategy to deal with anger, the idea of counting to 10 or taking a few deep breaths. This is so obvious, but the reasons that is helpful in adjusting the anger is that it allows the observing part of awareness to see the situation and by delaying the reaction, lets go of the intensity of the need to react.

That is a behavioral strategy, and it does work most of the time. For me, though, getting to the undercurrent has been very revealing. It is the goal I have set, consciously or unconsciously that makes me feel desperate to have things a certain way, and it is judgment that makes it feel so intolerable to have things go any other way than that to which I am attached. A pause can help me see the larger picture, not just delaying the response so that I can see my reaction, but actually enabling me to see the source of the grasping, the fear, the shame, the threat, the self-judgment, attachment or desperation over outcome that underlies my reaction. In the course of normal interactions, does it matter so much if this or that happens a specific way or in a specific sequence or with a specific result?

From teaching I have been thrilled to find that no matter what I suggest or introduce in a session, each student has their own experience, guided in various ways and with widely different effects from the words and movements of that moment and the next moment. This is a continuous reminder to me that we are all working with the same material and that our conditional experience is always subject to the individual levels of awareness, patterns and openness. There is nothing finite about us, and in that there is possibility that may escape us at this time, but is never far beyond reach. The practice of letting go that is part of yoga is cultivated in each moment. Savasana (the relaxation of "corpse pose") is when most students "work" at letting go, but in every breath the exhale can be a reminder to release what is no longer necessary.

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