React or Respond?

“We recognize that it’s spaciousness that truly enables us to respond, rather than react to any given situation.”

If you could add up all the times you’ve reacted to today’s events, and the amount of times that you actually responded to them, would those numbers be out of balance? To which side would the scale tip for you? Contemplating this rather important image, the question arises, “How do I actually get to choose to respond to situations that happen in my life, rather than just react to them?

Presented to simply stimulate thinking, please pardon the oversimplification made in the following paragraphs. To begin with, let me suggest the major difference between reacting and responding.

When you respond, you meet the surprise and wonder of life as it arises, finding out what instructions life has for you, rather than what instructions you have for managing your life. Reacting just pushes ahead one’s own perceived agenda but does not allow for very much discovery. Since everything is impermanent (meaning all arises and all eventually falls away,) when we attempt to grasp onto things, or in other words, to control life, we ultimately wind up being frustrated–thus suffering. Any attempt to illlicit control over the events surrounding us is futile, and if thought not so, will only lead to more reacting, thus the more suffering.

Barring the “flight or fight” experience; we might say with assurance that reaction = suffering because, at its core, reacting is an emotional experience. Plain and simple, when we react, we see ourselves standing arm and arm with some kind of pain.

This image came to mind when meditating on reacting or responding: You are present at the local county fair as you approach the Ferris wheel. You have a choice to purchase a ticket for the ride, or maybe not. If you go for the ride, you hand over your ticket to the operator and sit down into one of the boxes and get locked in tight!

Remember, the ride is controlled by another person who, at his or her decision, moves you up one side and down the other. Fast or slow, round and round you go!

Another choice might simply be to stand beside the wheel, perhaps at its fulcrum and witness the ride occurring. If you watch it operate, you beget information about how the inner workings of the wheel turns by watching all the belts as they move in relation to the motor. You’re able to see all the different expressions on the people in each individual box as they circle around and around and you get to see the operator who’s at the control. Either way, on or off the ride, you’re still having an experience.

When you’re on the ride, your perspective is a rather limited one since you are being entertained in captivity while spinning–going high then low, backwards or forward. While standing and watching the ride; however, you’re able to get most of the same information with your feet firmly on the ground.

So too is the choice of reacting to any situation, or responding to it. Neither negates all the potential for emotions that could be experienced, they’re just experienced differently. As the rider, you are bound to the experience and not in control. You have no choices. Watching the ride; contrarily, there is no attachment to it (remember, your feet are on the ground) but you still can laugh, you can still get dizzy and you can still get scared just seeing the Ferris Wheel turn, stop, and go backwards.

This example may seem silly to some, but it provides an important simile; if we are able to be a witness to, and thus put space between the actions that happen around us, then we are able to consciously decide to create a response to them, or decide… maybe not. It really is our ability to recognize that it’s spaciousness that truly enables us to respond, rather than react to any given situation.

If we take the time and breathe between actions from our environment (including the people in it,) and also the actions that will emanate from ourselves, we find a whole lot more potential of possibilities.

The spaciousness is there, it just needs to be cultivated in the mind, and practicing meditation is an excellent way to begin to provide for this “space of allowance” sometimes referred to as Mindfulness.