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.