This week I listened to a conversation with John Gray, the relationship counselor and author of “Men are from Mars Women are from Venus”, where he mentioned automatic reaction patterns in times of stress. According to him, when we experience stress, we copy the reactive pattern our parents would go into when they experienced stress.
He said the same is true for our parents’ reaction pattern in times of stress and their parents’ reaction pattern and so on. A long list of people and automatic reactions! I believe it takes both practice, patience and courage to break a cycle that has been going on for generations.
In turbulent Covid times no wonder that our reaction patterns can be heightened. We don’t have control of what is going on or is going to happen. And so our whole Being might be in reactive mode most of our waking day.
I have thought about reacting versus responding lately. Becoming aware of how automatic most of our reactions are, and learning to respond rather than react, is a big part of mindfulness meditation practice. Training oneself to take a moment to pause when experiencing a stressful situation is so valuable as it provides space to see more clearly. With more clarity in mind we can respond in a wiser way, whatever the situation we are facing.
In a very abbreviated version, here is how mindfulness practice to train ourselves to respond works. Awareness is at the core of it! While sitting in meditation, observe what happens when bringing up an unpleasant thought on purpose. Instead of letting go of the thought, choose to stay with it. From there, drop into your body and bring awareness to your experience. What emotion comes up and where do you feel it in the body? Maybe it has a form, a consistency, a colour? Once you have localised it in the body, circle it with awareness, curiosity and kindness. There is no need to judge yourself for what you experience. All is good. You are simply learning more about you and increasing your awareness.
Awareness is everything. Practising mindfulness can help you become so aware so that you catch yourself next time you experience stress, and break the cycle of the automatic reaction pattern. You get to choose to respond.