Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Response Vs. Reaction

--by Adyashanti (Apr 30, 2012)

When I was 19 and 20, part of what drove my urge to awaken was that we were still in the midst of the Cold War, and it looked as though we might imminently drop bombs on each other. I saw the insanity and violence, and it occurred to me that we were all waiting for someone to solve this problem for us -- waiting for our politics to change, for our leaders to change, for some grand leader to inspire us. And somehow I just intuitively sensed that there must be a change of perspective, something much more radical inside. This mantra came to my mind, and it fed my awakening: "If not me, then who? If not now, then when?" And this brought all of the energy back to me. 
I started to see, from the standpoint of oneness, that when we look at the world around us and our leaders, it’s important to see them as our own self. And that can be shocking.  If it’s all one, then the leaders we don’t like are our own self, our shadow side, which society is denying. Instead of owning these forces of division and violence within ourselves, we project them onto somebody else. We get angry. It’s sort of a noble anger, a noble hatred, a noble division, and it’s easy to justify. “I am right because I’m a peace activist or an environmental activist.” We miss that this anger, no matter how justified, is still inside the movement of division—and it’s only contributing to division.  If the cause is wholeness or the cause is peace, then the cause is good—but the ends do not justify the means. Hate is hate; it doesn’t matter why we hate. Anger is anger; it doesn’t really matter why you’re dividing yourself against somebody. In the universe, it registers as division. 
When we start to see that, we can see that we are not justified in our divisions. If we are harboring division, we are violent, and that violence will manifest sooner or later. It’s sobering to see this, but when you do, it takes away the justification for being divided. 
That’s what I started to see at a young age. My concern drove me to a deeper place, this place that we’re called to when we speak of spiritual awakening. Now from that place, we can have a very active response to the world rather than a reaction against it. A response is inherently positive; a reaction is inherently negative and divisive. A great thing about coming to our own wholeness is that it’s not as though we just sit on our couch and see that everything is perfect. We do see that everything is perfect—but from that sense of perfection arise great love, great  compassion, and a great response to the life around us. It’s a response that is undivided. As a whole, as a world culture, if there is going to be a salvation, it’s going to have to come from the human heart being undivided. And to get there, we all have to wake up.
--Adyashanti, in Quiet Revolution

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Previous Reflections:

On Apr 27, 2012 PK wrote:
How can we wake up? By being in the present moment and being aware of both acceptance and rejection, fear and courage, love and hate in us. Once we wake up, staying up is an entirely different matter all together! If that is the case, did I really wake up in the first place or am I just dreaming?

On Apr 28, 2012 madhur wrote:
  Righteousness is a major problem for all conflicts. When we observe something is Not Right and resist or rise against it, it may arise ego clashes or war depending on the nature and size of conflict. What gets lost in the whole scene is love and understanding for the other party. If in moments of anger, resistance or violence , we can still keep love for the other buddy and good intentions alive, hatred cannot come into picture. Arising, arguments would still happen but with right fundamental thoughts and attitude.

On Apr 28, 2012 Conrad P. Pritscher wrote:
 Adyashanti is correct. We all have to wake up. As far as I can tell, a good way of helping that come about is for me to awaken. It will then be easier for you to awaken.  When you and I are more awake it becomes easier for others to become awake.  We are in charge and control of our own awareness.  Some unknown great thinker said: There are three things important in life, 1, is to be kind, 2, to be kind, 3, is to be kind, The Talmud  says the highest form of wisdom is kindness.  Kindness and compassion and wisdom are one as are we.  Lack of awareness creates reaction whereas awareness creates a response.

On May 1, 2012 Veena Vasista wrote:
I recently did the Hoffman Process - a very intense retreat/workshop in which we worked deeply with connecting up mind, body, spirit and emotions in a healthy, empowering way. One of the many insights I took away from the Process was the important distinction between reaction and response. What follows in this comment is some of the thinking I've recently been doing on reaction vs response.

Too often, we allow our movement to be directed by our reactions to the world around us - and this is a passive existence. We can, as an alternative, choose to be guided by our responses to the world around us - and this is an active existence.

A definition of ‘reaction’ is: an equal or opposite force exerted by against a force acting upon it. In other words, when we are reacting, we are expressing opposition to what has been said or done. This opposition is usually driven by unchecked emotion. For example, one morning when I was talking with my dad and he said what he said, I could feel the emotion rise from my gut up through my chest and into the tears that started to well up in my eyes. If I had said anything at that moment, it would have be a reaction - driven by the intense emotion of his words. Perhaps, I might have even been reacting less to the content of what he is saying and more to the tone of it. Also, I was likely to have been reacting to/opposing a set of stories I attached to his words and tone - a whole narrative full of assumptions and judgments tied to age-old wounds.

In reacting, I would not have considered why I was saying/doing what I was saying/doing. Thankfully, that morning, I did not let my reaction direct me. I experienced it quietly and then chose to respond to my father.  In seeking a definition of ‘response’ on-line, I generally found it to be considered synonymous with reaction. Not helpful for my purposes - but then I went to etymology and was directed to the word ‘responsible’ which is said to mean ‘morally accountable for one’s actions’ and is linked to a latin root which links to a sense of obligation.

For me, this gives us the difference between reaction and response. When we choose to respond - rather than react - we are choosing to pause, check in with how we are feeling, think about why we are feeling what we are feeling and consider what words or actions can flow from our feelings. We do so with an an awareness of our moral compass - of our sense of what would serve ourselves and others well, under the circumstances. We wonder how we can be creative and compassionate. Ideally, our responses are rooted in love.

In my own life, I have no doubt of the benefits that will arise from becoming more responsive and less reactive. In being responsive, I will act with greater integrity - speak and do with an intent to love and serve without hidden agendas linked subconsciously to the hurts, aches, wounds inside me. This brings me to a very important dimension to all of this: our reactions are generally led by fear, sadness, anger, frustration etc, without the necessarily balancing guidance of compassion, wisdom and creativity.

I see journey from reaction to response as akin to the hearing the call of the awakened warrior who is in service to peace and joy. I’m in a situation right now where I would greatly benefit from from being responsive rather than reactive. Or perhaps I can put it more accurately - I would benefit by taking responsibility for my thinking, words and deeds. Fundamentally, that’s what this is all about - being responsible for how we move through the world. It’s a choice.

On May 1, 2012 Ricky wrote:
When we take the time to become aware of our personal samskaras (habits, ruts) in our thinking patterns, when we quiet ourselves to allow thoughts to arise and flow and tune in deeply to the physiological responses, and when we humble our ego (little s self) to share with others our struggles concerning ‘knowing’ the difference between ego manifestation of a 'problem' and our need to fix it, and the bigger picture awareness of the infinite having a finite experience, we will more readily recognize the 'reaction' to someone or something and the 'response'.

Discernment is an important concept here. Just 'who' is thinking and reacting, or responding?  In this technology driven evolutionary age dealing with processing enormous amounts of bits of data information and constant inundation of trivia and major events of news and someone else’s interpretation of these, we are mired down by the sheer weight of what to do about it, and then we can only react based on how we were culturally conditioned.

Imagine years ago as the history of our human experience unfolded by dualistic struggles, and the stories and legends and myths about this happened, and then that happened in retaliation, and then this happened in righteous indignation, and so on...there continue to exist in this present day even cultures on this beautiful planet whose language has no word for war.  This is profound to me, and always immediately halts my cyclical thinking.  We can change!

On a personal note, just this weekend I spent time in a workshop with a student of Adyashanti's. The irony of this statement is not lost on me at all, and the serendipitous nature of this would not be lost on you, dear reader, either, if you knew where I live and under what circumstances this workshop took place. This student of Adyashanti’s teachings through meditation practice are profound in recognizing self talk, and includes discerning toward allowing and listening to the thoughts ebb and flow without manipulating them  At this moment in time this practice allows me to gift to you the recognition of Oneness with all that is in existence by arms outstretched before me from my heart and palms up, head bowed.  Dualistic thoughts (good versus evil, black versus white, love versus hate, peace versus war) arise from an implication and conditioned indoctrination of significant division and separateness based on superficial manifestations of ego truth.  This way of witnessing our existence seems at odds with the teachings of the universe about interconnectedness, wholeness, and even the story of Indra’s net of existence-a teaching that when one tugs on this infinite exquisitely bejeweled series of threads by an action significantly affects every other intersection, where another blessed being resides.  We do not exist in isolation. 

I have heard it said that your actions are your karma and my reactions are my karma.  I choose calm response.

On May 1, 2012 Mony Dojeiji wrote:
What a great article! I couldn't agree more. Whatever you dislike or judge on the outside has its roots within your very own heart. I have been working with a tremendous technique used by Hawaiian shamans for millennia called Ho'oponopono. The technique states that I am 100% responsible for ALL that is in my experience. It is all within me, and I am placing it in my experience so that I can see it and ultimately heal it using Love. 

You only need to say the following words: I love you, I'm sorry, please forgive me, thank you.

Although it sounds simple, there is a great energy shift that happens when you do this, and when you understand what's behind the words. It's a little too long to get into here, but If you are interested, I speak about how I used Ho'oponopono to help me with a specific fear that I held regarding the safety of my daughter (!/2011/07/healing-with-hooponopono.html). I hope you find it helpful.

With love and light,

On May 1, 2012 sarah m wrote:
hooray to see adyashanti's clarity shared here! when i think of reaction vs response, i think of small mind vs big mind informing my relationship with the world/the moment. the mirror that you hold up, adya, is so sweet and clear.  i send you my love if you are reading this. :-)

On May 2, 2012 Amber wrote:
 I am 23 but since a very young age, I would some times ask God why. My parents were constantly fighting, over this or that and I remember praying to God to kill me so i could escape the chaos. Thank goodness for Him he did not answer me, instead it pushed me one step closer to that deeper place. I thirsted to become whole, I was ravenous for what I did not totally understand all the time. Some thing that no one, no person, no place and no item could give. Now looking back I can see the divisions in life but seeing them and not react negatively to some things is a work in progress. So I refrain from doing or saying any thing and put myself in that persons shoes and think about the big picture. Then and only after that process can I make a response with a scene of pure love, compassion.

On May 3, 2012 Melody wrote:
How can we know if it is a response or reaction?  Response is pausing and taking the time to consciously choose a new way of being and dealing with what is presented in the present moment.  Reaction is automatic and triggered by emotion and history. 

On May 4, 2012 David Doane wrote:
 I thought of Gandhi's comments as I read this piece.   Gandhi said, "The purity of the means determines the purity of the end" and "we must be the change we want in the world."  Hate begets hate.  Peace begets peace.  We wake up by however we awake -- there is no one way -- some may spontaneously wake up, some are awakened by a problem or crisis, some by association with someone who is awake.  I suppose it most frequently takes something or somebody shaking us, knocking us out of our routine.  In the process of being honest with self, honest reflection, and honest interaction with others we grow in awareness of our faults, our dishonesty, our agendas, our negative divisions.  I think of a response as wholistic, as a combination of my thinking and feeling, as the result of some discernment and wisdom and discipline, as chosen.  I think of reaction as impulsive, autonomic, knee-jerk.  As for a personal story, I felt very wronged by an individual years ago -- my reaction was feeling sorry for myself, anger, and thoughts of hurting him in all kinds of ways -- my response slowly became to think about ways I am like him, think about forgiving, feel less anger and more mellow and more forgiving.  My reacting and responding are still going on, and my reaction is lessening and my response is growing, and that feels satisfying on the inside. 

On May 7, 2012 Vincent Vaz wrote:
  As a Counsellor, I recall somewhere in my personal notes it is mentioned that between Reaction and Response are two other Rs which many of us, knowingly or unknowingly use when we encounter uncomfortable/ harsh realities of our life.

The first R is Reflection – (showing them what they are) trying to create an awareness among those whom we hold responsible for the malady, of being responsible or being the cause, thus instilling in them a sense of guilt. Many activists and seekers of social justice fall into this trap when they raise red flags of protest against  people/persons/individuals rather than against wrong or unjust policies/decisions/actions. As activists, we need to make a dark line of distinction between the two and direct our corrective measures at actions rather than persons.

The second R is Reply – providing solutions. There are many social workers who provide solutions to social evils by investing their time, money and energy to ‘provide’. It looks like a noble, charitable and worthy act and is good to start with. However, it has two short-comings: (1) When we provide, we tend to get drained of our resources since it is a one-way flow i.e. from us to them and (2) We create a sense of dependency and instead of empowering the weak we end up crippling them.

Response, therefore, is the fourth R on the continuum: Reaction – Reflection – Reply - Response. A Response is the creation of an environment, by word, attitude and behaviour, wherein people begin to look at in themselves and appreciate in others the beauty and resourcefulness within, to be able to tap them to encounter the unpleasant/harsh realities of life. Each one of us can begin with our own self and invite people around us to explore within and soon we shall see unjust social structures crumbling by themselves. Tall order you may say, but if we believe it can happen, it will happen.

On Jun 3, 2012 JTSA wrote:
 Opposing forces keep conflict alive. How to overcome opposing forces, especially violence and oppression?  By seeing it differently.  However, I cannot do it most of the time myself,, yet.

On Jun 11, 2012 Virendra Sahdev wrote:
Awakening only can come from love..universal love ..... and then we may be able to response to any situation and not react... reaction will always create negative emotions, like anger, grief, divide whereas love will generate goodwill, win-win situation and positive emotions
We can never win hearts with arguments or confrontations even though we may seem to win the argument.. it only  creates divides, whereas love evolves a feeing of compassion, empathy and  peace.

Imagine a situation, you are driving in a car.. suddenly a cyclist crosses the road in front of you... you react to the situation.. curse the person,. the system... all negative thoughts leading to divide.. and making you ill at ease..
Just try to change the perspective.. what compulsions that old person must be having.. to cross the road risking his life.. big family to support.. meagre means.. can't afford even a bus ride.. has to reach his work after attending to daily chores like fetching water from a far away public hand pump.. the entire situation will change to love and empathy and you will give way to the person with smile and a sense of gratitude for what you have..

Response with love, can change the entire world

On Jun 15, 2012 IAMJTSA wrote:
The trouble with the aery-faery woo-woo esoteric responses (yes, I have done it, too), is this:  While we are in the physical body (if we actually are which is another entire issue), the physical body has its' effects.  A person with organic brain dysfunction or conditions (Attention Deficit Disorder, Autism, early and end stage Dementias, Epilepsy and resulting damages, mild traumatic brain injury and diabetic and other neuropathies -- Cannot do these things.  I have read through so many opinions (and yes -- everything we read is just an opinion,  belief, whether codified or not) and there seems to be no real provision for this.  SO... the compassion is one-sided; it comes from the giver to the givee without discrimination, not because you have to, but because you can.  Some CANNOT wake up.  We preach at each other kindness, compassion, understanding... but the people who cannot "wake up" are doing the best they can in a defective physical form, many of their disabilities remaining invisible.  Many are judged very negatively.  Many are scorned or punished in a world that does not understand.  I have such a disability, a genetic condition (CADASIL), which emotionally feels like wearing barbed wire underwear... always irritable, always in pain, always struggling to make it through the day.  My reactions are often of my body, my brain, my nervous system, and not of my MIND which is greater than my body.  My efforts in life?  To allow those who cannot understand have their reaction without allowing it to make my condition worse.  In a way, I hope every being has the opportunity to live through a neuro-degenerative condition.   You think you have the ability to transcend, to overcome?  Try it this way... you'll soon see.  Too much aery-faery woo-woo lacks compassion.  Keep learning, okay?  Because you are really talking to yourself.  I know this.

On Jun 15, 2012 Ricky wrote:
To the most recent post:   It becomes our joy in life to be with those who, in your definition, can't wake up to behold they are already there, awake

On Jun 17, 2012 IAMJTSA wrote:
Ricky, you missed the entire point. You shall do as you see fit. The point is that at some time people like me cannot behave as your indoctrination suggests.

On May 5, 2017 psi wrote:

ok, so divisive equals judgement, ethics of dark and light, reaction, hatred.
unity equals love, commonality, heart, response, awakening.
got it.  we see this design throughout the universe, as well as in mind, body and spirit.
Amazing insight, many thanks.