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ReMindful - Unravelling Reactivity (6:14 mins)


So, yesterday I found myself in a particularly reactive state of mind.

I'd had a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it and much of the day was spent unconsciously rushing from one thing to the next.

It wasn’t until later in the day that I really stopped to reflect how I’d been showing up, and how I hadn’t been the best company for those around me.

What I realised is that my reactivity had had little to do with how much needed to get done, and it had had everything to do with how I’d been relating to sensations of unpleasantness in my body and mind while rushing.

It stands to reason that a frantic and distracted mind is less prone to responding wisely than a mind that’s calm and present.

It has reminded me that moving quickly doesn’t have to be synonymous with rushing.

The role that mindfulness plays in helping us to reclaim our ability to respond rather than react, is that it can help us trace the chain of events that can lead to reactivity.

When we ground our awareness in the present, we can begin to notice that the quality of our thoughts, perceptions, feelings and actions, begins with an initial trigger of something that we experience as either pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.

That ‘something’ might be a pleasant or unpleasant sight, sound, taste, smell, physical sensation, or thought that has arisen in the mind.

The very instant that 'thing', whatever it is, makes contact with our awareness, it is immediately recognisable as being pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.

We refer to this as a feeling tone.

A feeling tone is different from the feelings or emotions that we experience in the body or the mind. It is far more pre-cognitive than that.

For instance, when we look up and see a sunset, the pleasantness of it is immediate.

We don’t have to think about it. It’s just pleasant, and there is no mistaking it as being unpleasant.

It’s pleasant from the precise moment the image makes contact with the eyes.

Likewise, if we hear the screeching sound of fingernails on a chalkboard, we don’t have to think about whether we like it or not.

The moment it makes contact with the ear, its unpleasant.

It's the same for every aspect of our moment to moment experience.

Life is an ever changing cocktail of thoughts and sensations that arise as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral stimuli.

So, why is this significant?

It’s significant because feeling tones trigger and colour our perceptions.

Following a feeling tone, we start to perceive what’s happening through the medium of judgements and labels, such as good or bad, right or wrong, fair or unfair, love or hate, beautiful or ugly, etc…

Our perceptions then manifest as sensations and feelings in the body that we also experience as either pleasant or unpleasant.

As a response, the mind then attempts to make sense of these feelings by telling the story of what's happening - of why it's good or bad, and by using evocative language that adds emotional weight to the situation.

Then this, in turn, loops back into the system to enhance physical sensations of comfort or discomfort, by which point we’re often compelled to act or behave in a way that honours what we’re feeling.

This whole process can happen so quickly that our actions and behaviours can flow out of us automatically and, in some instances, can can become our default or habitual way of relating to certain events or situations.

By paying attention to feeling tones as they arise in our experience - which becomes easier to do through the practice of meditation - we can learn to introduce a little more space between what happens and what we do with what happens.

We can regard pleasantness simply as pleasant, and unpleasantness as unpleasant, and we can practice being in that moment with equanimity.

When we feel challenged, or overwhelmed, or experience an uncomfortable event, we can always take a moment to check-in with ourselves and recognise the presence of the unpleasant feeling tone in our system.

Through pausing and acknowledging, we can resolve to use this space to respond more consciously and wisely to what’s going on.

We might decide to have a glass of water rather than the tenth cup of coffee of the day.

Or we might choose to take a settling breath, rather than saying something we might later regret.

We may not always get it right - yesterday being a clear example for me - but it is possible that the window of tolerance can become wider over time, and that we can develop the wherewithal to be more responsive, rather than reactive, more of the time.

What a gift that is.

Well, I’m off to practice right now.


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