We have all had the experience of reacting in a way that was less than skillful upon hearing unpleasant news, being put down, or being told something we’d have preferred not to hear at all. This is human nature – automatically reacting when our emotions are triggered and often feeling compelled to blurt out whatever is on the tip of our tongue…skillful or not. It takes practice to create that tiny gap in time that allows the brain to remember to stop, creating the potential for for us to pause and take a breath before we react instantly to a given situation. Those seconds it takes for that breath can change not only the energy of the outcome of a challenging situation but change the outcome in its entirety!
We feel a need to release the tension by expressing ourselves in some way, whether it’s screaming back at a person screaming at us, or rushing to offer words of comfort to a friend in need. Knowing this we can see the value in, how much there is much to be said for training ourselves to pause, to take a breath or two before we respond to the slams and aspersions that may come our way.
We may know intellectually that our initial reaction is not always what’s best for us, or for the other people involved. Reacting to incivility with incivility will only escalate the negativity in a situation, further enmeshing ourselves in an unskillful dynamic. Similarly, when we react defensively, or simply thoughtlessly, we often end up feeling regret over our words or actions. In the end, we save ourselves a lot of pain when we take a breath, or several, and check in with ourselves, and the other person, before we respond. This doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t say anything, although in some cases, that may be the best option.
Some situations require a fairly immediate response, but even just a moment of grounding ourselves before doing so can help enormously. See if you can notice emotions that trigger reactivity – just set the intention to be aware as best you can. No judgment when you do notice, just notice as an impartial observer to your experience, with curiosity and kindness. With practice, upon noticing the start of an urge to react, you may be able to pause and take some breaths, feel your feet on the floor, the air on your skin, and listen for a response to arise within you. You may find that in that moment, there is the potential to move beyond reaction and into the more subtle and creative realm of response, where something new can happen.