If I could share only one tool with people, I would teach this one.
Every one of us has moments that throw us off our center. We get upset. We want to run away and hide or lash out. We don’t know what to do, and that scares us.
Sometimes we understand what triggered us; sometimes it’s a complete mystery. We just know that we feel terrible inside. It’s often a familiar feeling of powerlessness and pain.
We are in a reaction.
What we need first and foremost in these moments – before we say or do anything with anyone in our environment – is to understand what is happening to us. Once we understand, we naturally have more compassion for ourselves, and we have taken the first step toward transforming this energy.
(Note -- This healing room introduction is longer than some of those in the other rooms. But just like in the other rooms, there are many multi-media resources at the end of the article. So, please be sure to scroll down when you are ready to see them.)
What is a reaction?
First of all, a reaction is the opposite of feeling relaxed.
When we feel deeply relaxed, life simply flows, and we naturally trust in the goodness of reality and the universe. Situations effortlessly fall into place. Disruptions happen around us, but we don’t take them personally. We feel intimately connected inside to something greater than ourselves, a kind of well being that surrounds us and fills us up.
We experience ourselves as spread out, and we viscerally inhabit our physical form. There is no need to defend or overthink what’s happening. We just exist in peace. We directly experience moments of who we really are inside, the divine energy that came into this body when we were born.
When we are in a reaction, however, we feel cut off from this kind of inner experience. We have big difficult emotions, energies that want to blast out of us. We might feel like a volcano is ready to erupt or like our skin is on fire. The relaxed, peaceful, trusting energy is gone. It’s like the lights are on but nobody’s home.
We try to escape but there’s nowhere to go. So we end up discharging this energy with unconscious words or actions, or we turn it harshly on ourselves and inevitably it spills out onto others. After the discharge, we feel bad and so do the other people in our environment. But without tools to change this ingrained pattern of reactivity, the cycle of explosion/discharge usually repeats itself, and our relationships suffer and weaken.
What helps us transform our reactions?
- What if a benevolent field of energy surrounded us all of the time and was ready to respond to us by manifesting the positive energy blocked in our systems?
- What if we were wired as human vessels to receive this positive energy from the Divine the more we felt relaxed inside and allowed our experience “to simply be”?
In my experience, these statements are both true.
Here’s another truth I have discovered about reactions. Everyone has them unless the person is Jesus or a Buddha.
When we see that other people have the same inner dynamic, it gives us some space. As human beings, we have all learned reactions from the generations of people who came before us. They, in turn, learned reactions from the generations before them. That doesn’t excuse anyone’s hurtful behaviors, but it helps us understand why this happens to humans.
Two steps – noticing and naming a reaction...
Just like a small child, a reaction wants to be seen. It wants to be noticed. It wants to be understood. This is what was missing in our historical past.
We can try to visualize a reaction as a frozen moment from when we were younger or from when we had a traumatic experience that made us feel small. This smallness relaxes and feels safer when it is truly “seen” by a gentle, compassionate and sincerely curious other.
From this gentle, compassionate and curious place, the two most important things we can do for a reaction coming up inside us is to notice it and name it.
This sounds very simple, but it’s actually profoundly powerful. When we sense into our inner reality, we deepen and experience more of the flow of life. We watch ourselves change.
When we notice and name, we learn to travel inside a new part of ourselves. This is not a mental journey. It involves your body, your breath, your awareness – all of the capacities that you use everyday to notice other people and what they need when they are having a hard time. We don’t realize the power of this attention that comes out of us every day for others. It is truly magnificent.
Here’s an example of a reaction I noticed the other day while at home with my family.
I was feeling irritable and perhaps fighting off a cold. Instead of letting this energy come out sideways at the people in my life, I took a few private moments to sense in and notice more deeply what was happening.
“I am in a reaction right now. I am aware of heat and buzzing sensations in my mouth and my jaw. I notice that my head throbs deep inside my brain. I feel dizzy. I feel a contraction in my upper right arm. It feels like a tight rope pulling my muscles. It hurts when I try to move my arm up. I notice my heart feels tight like a fist. When I notice the fist, I want to cry. I’m not sure why I want to cry, but I also notice that I miss my father.”
Allowing myself to go deeper into what was under the irritability brought up more clarity and tenderness toward my small part. I realized that I felt tired and I fell into a deep short sleep. I realized I had been pushing myself too hard, which I often did in relationship to my father. When I awoke, the tension and pain in my body had diminished greatly. I felt much more able to be with my family and experience the love and joy I felt for them flow out of me.
Even a moment of attention like this can soften us. We breathe a bit more easily. We feel slightly more connected to ourselves even though the content may not be anything we would choose.
Whatever we discover when we inquire into our inner experience is significant. It might be a sensation, a temperature, an openness/closedness, a heaviness/lightness, an emotion. The content doesn’t matter as much as the fact that noticing and naming are occurring.
*One important note: Sometimes we might feel like we can notice and name what’s happening by ourselves. Sometimes we might want some help. Whatever feels supportive is the best choice. This is a kind of muscle building program where you are learning to see what’s true for you, but it needs to happen in a way that is gentle and kind. If it doesn’t work well by yourself in the beginning, it’s useful to spend time with a mind-body practitioner who understands this kind of work and can provide additional support.
As we practice noticing and naming, slowly but steadily we begin to have moments of tenderness toward the small part inside our reactions. We also begin to have access to the essential energy that has been blocked in us by the reaction. These qualities might include true undistorted forms of strength, power, compassion, joy, curiosity, love, pleasure, will, protection, support and brilliancy.
Our truth is precious, just as our human life is precious. It informs us about what we need and how we want to live our lives. Each and every moment of our truth holds critical information for us. It gives us the knowledge of what we need to share with others, most successfully when we are not in a reaction.