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Reactions

Ordinary reactions keep us fettered by Becoming. [Click here for the Becoming/Being distinction.] The way to become unfettered is simply to drop them.

Please do not confuse them either with instinctive behaviors or with unavoidable judgments.

Instinctive behaviors such as blinking or flinching are hardwired. It’s appropriate to jump back when a snake strikes or a fist flies towards your face. Such instinctive behaviors don’t require any thinking (conceptualizing) at all. It’s as if your brain is taking care of you without requiring you to decide to do anything.

Unavoidable judgments are those required for problem solving. When you are lost in the woods, sit down and come up with a plan for survival. When you are shopping for a new sofa, compare the similarities and differences of the various options.

The more important the problem to be solved, the more important it is to think it through carefully. Often what seems intuitively correct is a course of action exactly opposite to what should be done. Used correctly, our ability to think is a blessing.

Used too frequently, though, our ability to think is a curse. It’s not thinking that is the problem; it’s our frequent misuse of thinking, our attachment to compulsive thinking [click here for more on compulsive thinking].

Most reactions are ordinary. Why does that matter?

Ordinary reactions such as gratuitous evaluations only result in a proliferation of forms that keep us distracted from noticing the formless.

As a result, instead of being grounded in the immensity of Being, life is reduced to noticing one damn form after another. Then we wonder why we are so dissatisfied!

The first step towards dissolving dissatisfaction is simply witnessing that proliferation of forms. Once it sinks in how unnecessary and damaging they are, it’s possible to begin regularly letting them go.

For example, suppose you come out of a store after buying a package of gum. I ask you, “What did you think of the clerk?” I’m asking about your reactions.

You answer by saying that she was hot or he was obese or he was friendly or she seemed happy — whatever you thought.

Question: why did you make any judgment about the clerk at all?

The stranger that question seems, the more lost in thought you are.

Don’t you usually live lost in thought? Aren’t you usually stuck in mind?

To begin to see why that is counter-productive, let’s imagine either that you never see that clerk again or that you do.

If you don’t, what was the point of your reactions, your judgments? Why waste mental energy thinking when it isn’t necessary? Instead, why not complete the transaction, smile nonjudgmentally, and leave?

Rather than being open throughout the brief encounter, you went through it with a closed mind. By being preoccupied with your own thoughts, you missed much of what actually happened. The encounter lacked depth or fullness.

It may seem a trivial example until you begin seriously wondering what happens when you go through life missing the depth or fullness of all or most of your experiences.

If you do, don’t you think that the clerk sensed your evaluative reaction?

How do you feel when someone evaluates you? On the other hand, how do you feel when someone is open to you and lets you in just as you are? Instead of disarming the clerk’s wariness, you fed it. Is that the best way to begin a more lasting encounter?

Or consider cases in which you encounter other kinds of animals or plants rather than other humans.

When you notice a beautiful tree, do you instantly classify it like some beginning botanist? What difference does it make how you classify it or how botanists label it? Why not skip the classifying and just intuit the beautiful aliveness of the tree?

Similarly, isn’t it simply marvelous to watch a bird building its nest? Whether or not you know what kind of bird it is, it’s possible to appreciate its toil and ingenuity. It’s astounding what animals can do — and sometimes the greatest zoologists do not understand how they are able to do what they do.

The difference between us and sages is that they only think when it is necessary to think.

Most of our thoughts are recycled, hence stale and boring. We stay stuck on the same thoughts year after year! We sleepwalk through life paying more attention to dead thoughts than to the living present. Since life occurs only in the present, we therefore miss most of it.

Sages are the opposite. Their minds are usually open to whatever is unfolding in the present moment. When it’s beneficial to think, they think – and then they think fresh, creative thoughts. Otherwise, they fully attend to life unfettered by ordinary reactions.

To live more like sages live, just begin to practice dropping all ordinary reactions. They are not only unnecessary, but they obstruct Being. As soon as you notice one, let it go.

How simple! How refreshing!

Posted in intellectual well-being

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