There are two primary ways human beings approach life. Okay there are probably more than two, but for the sake of today's discussion we're narrowing it down to two fundamental states. Reaction and response. As someone who could be characterized as reactive I've become intimately acquainted with these two modes of being in the world and can honestly say that one is far more peaceful than the other, and learning how to cultivating responding to life over reacting to life has many benefits.
Reaction is the egos answer to life's events. It is self protective, and often clouded with a deluge of varying emotions from sadness to fear. When we react to something it's usually the organisms automatic"defense mechanisms" kicking in to save itself from what appears to be a threat. Sounds important doesn't it? Well, some people make reaction a way of life, stressing not only their psychological systems to the limit but also their physical body and relationships.
Reactions are typically emotional in nature and often happen so quickly we don't have time to appraise our behavior before we've acted. We blurt, cry, scream, hit, leave, insult, divorce, break up with, patronize, seethe, analyze, detach from, self-aggrandize, intellectualize, deny, ignore, reframe and become indignant in the blink of an eye.
(Note that those moments when we move to save ourselves or someone else, such as pulling a child out of a burning car or saving ourselves from drowning is not a reaction in the psychological sense of the word but rather an instinctual response, and stems from a different part of the brain.)
Depending on our personality style, some of us react more quickly and frequently than others, but everyone finds themselves in the midst of a reaction from time to time. The more stressed we are, the more likely a reaction will seep out un-monitored.
Some of us become very good at justifying our reactions, no matter how immature, inappropriate, overblown or unsolicited they may be. Some reactions are grossly underwhelming to a situation, but be sure this is still a reaction, however in this instance the ego is constellated around NOT reacting due to being "laid back" or "drama free".
Reactions keep us in a state of unrest because it's the egos way of reinforcing a story about what life or someone else did to us. It allows us to justify our existence, and its the emotional brain's way of controlling our highest judgement. Sometimes we get lucky and our reaction is spot on, and is in alignment with the outcome we want. Occasionally what flies out of our mouth is just the thing to get the world to move the way we want it. But this result is just more fuel for the reactive mind, which uses its success to justify future reactions.
More often than not our reactions have a nasty boomerang effect, and while they may sometimes yield our desired immediate result there is typically backlash that throws us into conflict with ourselves or someone else. Not all reactions are equal in energetic frequency; obviously happy, joyful and excited reactions are relatively harmless. However the anger, fear or sadness based reactions have a lower vibrational frequency and tend to yield lower frequency outcomes...which generally we don't like.
Don't fret...There is another way: response. Responding to a situation differs from reaction because it allows room for our highest self to assess a particular situation. Response implies that there is space between an event and our interpretation of an event. That space is all that is necessary to allow in a more intelligent aspect of ourselves to steer the proverbial ship.
Through response we move past our initial emotional response to a stimuli, knowing that while emotions are important to pay attention to, they are always transient and can often mislead us if followed blindly. In response We sit with our initial emotions and reserve our next move until we can make it peacefully.
Depending on our personality and the circumstances this can take anywhere from a couple of seconds to days or weeks. Some situations require a more immediate response and we can only cultivate balanced responses through repetition. Responding allows our intuitive faculties to work more freely, which are much more reliable than either our emotional or logical mind because when our intuition is balanced it is a perfect balance of the hemispheres of our brains.
When we first start noticing the difference between reaction and response it may be difficult for us not to feed the reactivity monster, particularly if we're used to reacting passionately or automatically without the interjection of space. However, the more we practice responding the easier it gets. With time we will condition our reactionary brain to quiet down faster, allowing the space of presence to enter our awareness much faster.
Responding loosens the grip of the ego's false belief that only through conditioned emotional responses will outcomes be satisfactory. When we practice responding over reacting we begin to see that even if situations/people don't pan out or behave the way we thought they should, we are more peaceful in their midst.
Some egos will amp up reactionary thoughts and emotions as we begin to practice the art of responding. This is the egos fear of demise. When this happens we may begin to feel that if we don't react (and react big) then something will go terribly wrong. But this is illusory.
If you find ourselves in the midst of reaction (and you will, until you don't), that's okay too. Don't be too hard on yourself. There's still hope. As soon as you notice you are neck deep in a conditioned reaction, stop. Take a breath or two, close your eyes if necessary, and try to move out of the grip of the emotion (or lack thereof). This will immediately take you out of your reaction, even if just for a few seconds.
Responding allows for life to unfold more seamlessly, and also allows us to be more conscious participants in the play of life. This doesn't mean that situations will always go our way, or that people will always do what we want. Practicing responding also doesn't mean that our natural psychological defenses stop.
Working this practice means we create space between what happens in life and who we are. The more we create this space the more we begin to see we are not what happens in our lives nor are we our reactions but something much more profound, and deeper than we could have ever imagined