I am having plenty of opportunity to practice responding instead of reacting at the moment! On holiday with three children in their late teens and a dog, and I find myself with some irritation going on inside several times a day. It took me a few days to understand that I was reacting instead of responding to what was happening around me.
In mindfulness terms, there is a difference between reacting and responding. Reacting is what is considered “normal”, most of us act on automatic pilot most of the day. For example, if someone says something that is not pleasant to you, it is easy to immediately counter that, such as defending yourself, or pointing out that the other person is wrong and you are right. Responding, on the other hand, is when you choose what to say, you allow a little space to make a decision according to how you want to reply, and then you reply. Perhaps you even choose not to say anything!
Challenging when you are on holiday and everybody is an adult (sort of) with the right to say or do whatever they want to. And you are the “real” adult who feels in charge…
So, at least for me, responding instead of reacting is a good practice to keep in mind when I feel irritation creeping in because things are not happening “my” way! The trick is to step out of autopilot, and to actually SEE what is going on. This is where having practiced being present comes in handy. In the way that works best for you, you tune in to yourself, you go to your breath, or you “arrive” where you are, and then you act. Definitely a much wiser place to act from.
A couple of summers ago, I asked my children to remind me to OPEN MY EYES every time I was angry with them. I asked them to help me SEE instead of just saying something really unnecessary. It helped! Really seeing who was in front of me, the beautiful place I was in, what was there to be irritated about?