When we respond to a situation, we are aware of the impersonal quality of what is occurring. Life is happening, and we are just a part of that.
When we react to a situation, we view what is occurring as a personal threat, as an attack or as a punishment. Life is happening ONLY because we did or didn’t do something, or because we did something that we believe we deserve to be punished for. In other words, there is a tendency to identify with being either a ‘failure’ or a ‘victim’. This has two facets – the namesake side (failure/victim) and the reverse side (controller/perpetrator).
Now think about the way people view the world when they’re reacting. Does it actually work that way? Is it really possible that things are occurring solely because of us and/or the interplay between us and another person? It’s pretty unlikely. There are a myriad of factors that come into play in any given situation. The actions or non-actions of ‘you’ and ‘I’ are only part of the equation, and usually a tiny part at that.
Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh writes: “When we cannot communicate we get sick, and as our sickness increases, we suffer and spill our suffering on other people”.
Learning how to communicate effectively is part of the process of living a more liberated life. It involves learning how to come from a place of non-reactiveness and how to let go of your attachment to who you are in any given situation; being calm enough to take in the swirl around you without having to defend some territory called ‘I’. That sense of calm, in my experience, tends to be there when I’m not attached to my view of things – when I can express what I am experiencing honestly and clearly, but am wide open to listening and taking in the experiences of others, however different. It’s not always an easy task and most of us, myself included, fall flat sometimes. The important thing is to not let perceived failures hold you back.
Just as clinging tightly to what you think is true and right will cause misery, so will clinging to a view of yourself as a screw up. What feels like an insult to you today may feel like a compliment tomorrow. What seems like a failure now might be the very thing that leads you to somewhere great in the future.
Living a liberated life means letting go of all final judgments you might attach to yourself and your ideas, because there aren’t any final judgments anyway.
Photo by Nathan Thompson – all rights reserved