Healing in the Space Between Reaction and Response
If productivity is based on planning and preparation, then we can't avoid looking at the inevitable flip side of the subject, what happens when things don't go as planned. Feelings.
Disappointment, frustration, stuckness, meltdowns, panic, anxiety, loss of hope, loss of momentum, loss of security. These are just a few of my personal faves.
In the yoga practice we observe the fluctuations of the mind as challenges stir up reactions and trigger many different sensations. The real work comes when we transition observations into an opportunity to change course, smooth, level, balance, release judgement. On a macro scale, many things can cause a feeling of being setback in the practice. Injuries, illness, busy schedules that afford little or no time for practice, life events such as moving, vacations, having a baby. On a micro scale, within a single class we can be triggered by discomfort, seeing others do a pose we can't, not "getting" a pose we've gotten before. Many things can go not as expected and it can cause a great deal of dissatisfaction. Reactions can range from internal judgement, to flustered slumping, to excuse making to the teacher. And let me just tell you, this supposition comes from my own experience in MY practice, not a judgement on what I see with my students.
Off the mat, when the stakes are raised, feelings are amplified accordingly. Last week I had what I considered to be a humble reminder of the overwhelming sensation that the unexpected can engender.
I live across the street from a school, and when I first moved in I wasn't paying close enough attention to the parking signs, parked in a school loading zone, and got towed. My bank account was a few hundred bucks lighter, and I felt a few hundred pounds heavier with self-reproach. Right now in my life, a few hundred dollars can mean that I can't make rent, so since then I have been compulsive about street sign awareness, in addition to accounting for the whereabouts of every single dollar. It's a tight place, very little room for the unexpected. Well, the other day I was in a hurry and I parked in the school loading zone after restricted hours, planning on moving my car when I went to dinner. I ended up getting a ride, and completely forgetting to move my car. The next morning I woke up with a sudden remembering and crushing dread. My husband ran out to check, and didn't see our car. When he reported this back to me, I burst into tears and proceeded to have a full blown shame and panic meltdown. How could I have been so careless, so forgetful? Don't I know that there's not a penny to spare for stupid mistakes?!
This meltdown proceeds for nearly an hour, despite my husband's best efforts to reassure me that everything will be ok. I couldn't take it in, I was just blocked and all of my knowing that this wasn't the end of the world couldn't change the incredibly doomed feeling I was experiencing. My outlook on my day, our finances, shifted to pure pessimism. My demeanor changed to sulking and lethargic. It was dark.
We went to go pick up the car at the impound, and as we walked by the place I parked the car the night before, I was utterly shocked to see my car still there! It turns out, there are TWO types of loading zones, one that you'll get towed from, one that you'll just get a ticket in! My husband hadn't seen the car because he thought I had parked in the same place as last time, the tow zone, where no cars were. I had never been so happy to get a parking ticket IN MY LIFE. The first thing I said to him was "well that was a lot of crying for nothing".
The thing is, even if I had been towed, much time was spent spiraling into pre-conceived consequences, very unloving thoughts about myself, and a complete abandonment of my practice in perspective. That doesn't mean that I wish I hadn't had the reaction that I did, or that I think big reactions aren't justified. Obviously I was releasing pent up fear and anxiety and it was valuable to do so. Sometimes we have to forget our practice in order to remember it again.
If we are indeed in the practice of observing our reactions to triggering situations (yoga pose, towed car), it's important to also consider that there's reaction, and there's after-reaction.
After-reaction is often where find ourselves in the abyss of a powerless state. Because we feel powerless, it can be oddly comforting to feel like we know what's going to happen based on what has happened before. Somehow it seems less foolish to believe things will continue to be hard than to believe they will turn out ok. And this is the vice that things not going our way can put us in, a self-fulfilling prophecy that no matter what we do, things will go wrong.
The world happens, plans get interrupted, expectations aren't met, we know this. One would think that knowing this would mean that we aren't surprised when it does, that we'd be able to stay aligned with reasoned and rational responses to these inevitabilities. But for some reason, humans are built with the keen ability to forget this truth, and when separated from truth, we suffer and do all kinds of crazy stuff.
Sure, maybe our goal is to modify or completely change our reactions to things. I suppose in my own experience, after quite a lot of work, I've been able to change how I initially react to some things. But where I think the modification is really taking place is in the after-reaction. After-reaction is where the powers of observation and awareness come into play, and where we can implement our abilities to adapt, revise, and recover. Here we can rename "after-reaction" to "response".
Doesn't that feel more manageable? Response is the self-care of reaction, and what is constructive to our mental health and well being is beneficial for life in general.
When we circle back to productivity as a way to reclaim our power, we remember that making small steps forward reminds us that change is possible, and that the circumstance isn't permanent. By staying connected to our adaptability, we release the harnesses of the past, and allow ourselves to grow.
Next time discomfort finds you, I offer this suggestion from Yung Pueblo:
"Ask yourself: Is this how I actually feel, or is this my emotional history trying to recreate the past?"
Observe the threshold between reaction and response, see if some transition and healing can happen there.
May we be kind to ourselves and others as we all seek the balance between stability and flexibility, both on and off the mat.
March 20 2019