• Jane Douglas

Is there a difference between responding and reacting?

Lately I have noticed the subtleties involved between responding and reacting and am only now starting to notice the price I have paid for not being aware enough to spot the difference earlier!

I think most of us know that there is a huge difference between reacting and responding. When we respond it tends to be something that has been thought out and is calm and non-threatening.  But when we react it tends to be quick, without much thought and is tense and aggressive.

And I suspect we have all been victims to reactions that have provoked more reactions perpetuating a long line of hatefulness with nothing accomplished.

Perhaps this is nothing new to you so far, it wasn’t for me either. What is new for me though is realising the subtlety of our human reactions and how we often believe we are responding when in fact we are reacting.

I have discovered that reactions are not just the domain of obviously difficult outward situations, reactions also happen at the very subtle level of behaving, thinking and emotions. I would go as far as to say that most things we do are a reaction at some level. Spotting your reactions as reactions is the trick.

For example, I was about to put out an advert on Facebook last week and only just caught in time the fact that this was a reaction to the thought ‘I need to get this out there NOW, because I should have achieved much more at this stage!’ This voice in my head generated a bodily sense of urgency that was so subtle I almost missed it.

What I am trying to say is that our reactions are in fact very well ingrained and very well hidden. It could be argued that most of what we do in a day comes from our well-conditioned patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving. Even our personality traits are old patterns of reaction that we have perfected and honed over our lifetime. When we begin to pay real attention to our personality traits, we will often discover to our horror that they are patterns of closure and defence that in fact rob of us of inner freedom.

These days spotting something as a reaction feels like a spiritual practice to me because the difference between a reaction and a response requires the work of two types of awareness.

The first type of awareness is about learning to bring our awareness to our automatic patterns of closure and defence, and the specific ways these patterns urge us into doing something that is not in our long-term best interests.

The second type of awareness comes from bringing our awareness inside to listen to our inner wisdom. This type of awareness requires us to come from a place of stillness and can be likened to a form of deep listening. When we listen in this way the ‘right’ thing to do is allowed to emerge, and when we act from this place we will act not only in our own best interest, but in the best interests of those around us. Buddhists call this ‘right action.’

The more I travel through the daily challenges that life throws my way the more I am learning that more often than not the ‘right’ response is in fact to remain still and silent and do nothing at all.

Jane Douglas

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