We are thrown into the world, into the stream of life, into an ongoing fluid situation that has a long history before you existed and will be long after your corpse has been laid to shore.
So our early actions are always reactions. Other feed us and we are happy. Someone wakes us and we are sad. We are hungry and cry. And so on.
But if we continue reacting our whole lives it will be a tragedy. At some point one must move from passive recipient, knee-jerk reactor to initiator. Not initiator from a vacuum, but initiator in terms of seeing what is, and deciding what we wish to do with it. It is a subtle but crucial difference – and one marked more by the time lag than anything else. There is a pause, a reflection, an assessment based on one’s chosen values, and then an action.
The point here is to act out of freedom and desire rather than social programming, inner emptiness, social pressure, attempts at people-pleasing, and so on. A mindful pause enables such a reaction, a sitting with awkwardness, emptiness, inadequacy and whatever else comes up and instead of reacting, letting it pass. And pass it will. Then suddenly a peace descends, a centering. Then one moves from this center. From a place of desire not based on a sense of lack, not on emptiness and inadequacy, but rather from a life-affirming positive desire – not at filling some lack but at a desire which is what and who I am. A declaration of being.
However, in some sense, in some secret place in our souls, we all know this. The trick, the challenge for many is how to get there. What enables one to pause, to center? This is indeed where it gets tricky, and why so many “self-help” gurus fail to address the “how”. Instead they focus on the what, which is generally a million times easier. But also much less helpful, because most people already know at some level the what. Everyone knows that fast food is bad for you, everyone knows that inactivity is bad for you, everyone knows that a life watching TV will lead to misery – and yet what proportion of the population’s lives revolves around all three? Knowledge is not the problem, never has been the problem.
So here’s my attempt, and understanding this requires an appreciation of nuance. The paradox is that we get there at least partially through having a supportive environment. The trouble, the dangerous detour that is easily taken is developing an external locus of control, a belief that one’s destiny lies outside of one’s power. A sense of dependency and lack of self-efficacy – which leads clearly to misery.
Because guess what – we all have a certain degree of control over our environment. Where we live, where we work, who we spend our time with is within a certain range chosen by us. Our choices in the early going may be quite narrow, and perhaps we have little choice at that point. Then patience is required, and through planning one can eventually get to the point where it is truly a choice – one has wider options for each, and therefore one’s decisions reflect one’s preferences rather than just chance. Often freedom is something that is earned over time rather than something one is given.
So the “answer” is to continue waiting out your reactionary instincts while also trying to create around you a supportive, meaningful environment. It’s a dual focus on the inner and the outer. Focus too much on either direction, and you will fall into ruin. The self is important, but so is the field. The field is important, but so is the self. Progress is important but so is process. Process is important but so is progress. The main thing, again, is balance. Prudence. Wisdom.