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Trapped in Reactive Thinking

One of my favorite bumper stickers reads, "Mean People are Suffering".  It reminds me that there is no such thing as a "mean" person, just someone who is in pain and confused about how to get relief.  All thinking and behavior is a reflection of the heart.  Unfortunately it is often difficult to realize the connection between the two. 

Last week I was hiking in Yosemite with my partner and his father.  My partner said something that triggered hurt in me.  Instantaneously my thoughts moved to defense, judgment of him and his action, and justification.  It swirled among these three for several minutes fabricating arguments about why he shouldn't have said what he did and all the ways I didn't deserve such an "attack".  Then for a few more minutes I switched to analysis about why he had said it, how he was being reactive because of such and such. 

This kind of thinking can be seductive.  I am guessing you have found yourself believing that it's important to express these thoughts.  You may be seduced by the dramatic content of your thoughts.  This is the trap that can keep you stuck in reactivity.  Whatever the courtroom might say about the relative truth of your thoughts is irrelevant if you want to get back to your heart.  The usefulness in these thoughts is NOT the content.  The usefulness is in that they point to something important happening in your heart, usually hurt.

Meditation and mindfulness practice help you to create more awareness of this and greater ability to let yourself feel the hurt that's there.  You can start mindfulness practice with this by noticing any time you start to think or express judgment, criticism, or analysis of yourself or others or make a case about why someone is right or wrong.  Then ask yourself, "Thinking or expressing this, do I feel better?  Am I more relaxed, happier, connected, etc.?" 

Mindfully experiencing the truth of where this kind of thinking leaves you, you naturally wake up from the reactive trance they create.  You make space to feel what's there and naturally return to your heart.  Settled in your heart your perspective widens and wisdom arises.

When you and your partner find that you are exchanging explanations of how things are or should be you know you are still in the trance of reactivity.  This is the road to nowhere.  Call a timeout.  Get the feelings and needs sheet or agree to come back to it later.

For this week take on the simple mindfulness practice of noticing your judging, explaining, and justifying thinking or talk and ask the question, "Do I feel happier, more relaxed, or more connected as I think or express this?"

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1 Response

  1. Aug 12, 2010

    Dear Lashelle
    As always I enjoy the clarity in which you write. I also love the connection with mindfulness practice. Your article reminds me of Marshall quoting Gerald Jampolsky ( I think that's how it's spelled (-:) " Would you rather be right , or would you rather be happy? You can't do both!"
    Also I have found that when I am in my head I am disconnected from my body, I can't be aware of sensations and thinking at the same time! Thanks for this I will share it on my Facebook page and twitter.
    Peace from Israel
    Yael

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