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The Excitement of Reactivity

One aspect of learning to manage reactivity is giving up the excitement it creates.  Exciting may not be the first word you would use to describe reactivity, but if you look closely you can find it there.


It is when you are starting to become free of a certain kind of reactivity that you are most likely to notice this pull toward the excitement of it.  Being a little less identified with or caught up in reactivity allows you to observe the mechanics of it.


Observing closely you will find that the basic sensation of being pulled in by the excitement of your own reactivity is not much different from being pulled in by a movie or TV drama.  There is a tightening, anticipation, racing heart, adrenalin, and absorption.


Of course, the cost of being pulled in by your own reactivity is much higher than that of watching a dramatic movie.  Reactivity costs your own sense of peace, predictability, and integrity, as well as many needs for those around you.  


One of many pieces of personal work that helps you become free from a particular kind of reactivity is noticing the impact it has on your life; the suffering that results.  When you can consistently notice and reflect upon the suffering that results from reactivity, you will reach a critical mass of clarity.  


You know you have reached this critical mass of clarity when the anticipation of suffering is more immediate in your consciousness than the little hit of pleasure you get from the excitement of the reactivity in the moment.  In other words, the anticipation of pain has to outweigh the momentary pleasure.  


All too often, reactivity has to wreak real havoc before clarity about suffering outweighs the momentary pleasure.  


It doesn't have to be that way.  You can begin to manage reactivity without having to experience massive suffering.  Make a commitment to yourself that you will practice with a particular form of reactivity (e.g., anger storms, blaming, shutting down, shaming, etc.), then design a specific set of practices to follow.*


Here are some practical ideas for practice:


  • Right after a reactive moment, check in with as many of these aspects of experience as you can and name what happened:

    • Preceding events

    • Body sensations

    • Thoughts

    • Beliefs

    • Images

    • Feelings

    • Needs

    • Impulses

    • Energy


  • Each evening or once a week reflect upon times when you became reactive (whether or not you showed it externally).  Follow the thread of events noticing the impact on you and others.  If you have a poor memory, you may need to make little reminder notes when reactivity occurs.


  • Describe the reactivity you experience on a continuum from the most subtle sign of it to the most obvious.  The hope here is that if you see the predictable escalation of reactivity, you can start interrupting it earlier.  Describe the continuum of escalation for each category of experience.  For example, if you are working with anger storms as a form of reactivity, a description of the continuum might look like this:

    • Thoughts:  I don't like this - he shouldn't do that - How could he be so inconsiderate - Who in H*** does he think he is!


  • Feelings:  Grumpy – Impatient - Irritated – Annoyed –– Frustrated – Angry – Furious – Irate - Enraged - Livid


  • Body sensations:  a little tense - jaw tightening - field of vision narrowing - heart racing - flush of heat - making a fist


  • Energy:  jittery - erratic - pulled in - up in the head - pushed out like a bullet or explosion


Consistent and detailed reflection upon the short and long term results of reactivity will help you interrupt the impulse to follow the excitement of reactivity.  Rather than seeking excitement, you may begin to enjoy the more subtle and sublime rewards of life that can be experienced when your mind is clear and equanimous.


Practice

Take a moment now to study reactivity with the intention to notice the pull of excitement.  Focus on three full breaths to become mindful.  Then bring up something that even as you bring it into awareness you begin to react.  Immediately, upon noticing the reactivity, pause and search your mind, body, and heart for signs of excitement.


*This is article describes only one aspect of working with reactivity.  Naturally, there are many.  You can find more articles on my website that describe a variety of approaches to working with reactivity.  Here is one:  http://www.wiseheartpdx.org/post/412

 

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