One minute you can be traveling along feeling peaceful and loving towards yourself and the world – then you meet someone, they say something and the next minute you’ve been completely taken away from your peace. At this point you have a choice: you can blame the other person or use your reaction as a learning opportunity to grow and learn to experience your world in a more peaceful and loving way.
To do this, it is important to be able to begin to understand your inner world in terms of your thoughts and feelings. This involves developing skills to observe your thoughts and feelings — which are actually the same thing — rather than being swept away by them. Your thoughts determine how you feel; for example, if you are thinking “I love my life” on a regular basis, you are likely to feel great. However, if you were repeatedly thinking, “life is a struggle,” you would quite possibly feel sad or even depressed.
When you develop the ability to observe your reactions and thoughts in a loving way they will begin to flow energetically through your body. It is as if you are the chariot driver, your feelings are the chariot and the horses are your thoughts. As the chariot driver you want to be in charge of the horses, otherwise they can run away and you can end up in undesirable situations.
Your reactions are a wonderful guide to what is really going on in your inner world. Very strong feelings are involved in reactions, which are brain responses associated with survival. Reactions are caused by a small nut-shaped structure in the brain, known as the amygdala, which scans the environment for signs of danger. It is associated with emotions such as fear, rage, anger, and fight or flight. If the amygdala senses danger, it will signal the body to either act aggressively (fight) or withdraw (flight). The fight response manifests in things such as road rage, saying things you don’t mean and later wishing you could take it back, while flight may make you feel “frozen,” unable to find the right words to say.
This survival system is lightning-fast, providing an immediate subconscious reaction to an event. You know that a reaction has taken place when you feel an emotional charge and generally don’t feel very good. Words such as triggered, hooked in and my buttons were pressed are often used to describe the event. Strong physiological changes can take place, such as: a pounding heart, shallow breathing, feeling shaky, a tight feeling in your stomach and a fuzzy head. This is because your whole body is getting ready to fight or to take flight!!
Reactions develop in childhood when a child’s reasoning centers are not fully developed, so they process the world in an emotional way. If a child grows up in an aggressive household, the amygdala may give the child signals to withdraw from a potentially dangerous situation (flight). This allows the child to draw less attention to him or herself and perhaps remain physically safe. The problem occurs when that person is in a similar situation as an adult. Any similarly aggressive situation, large or small, can trigger a flight reaction, as this pathway was programmed in the brain in the past and is now automatic. The adult will find him or herself reacting and withdrawing without wanting to. The reaction is often not proportional to the situation and leaves the adult feeling confused and out of control.
Part of the survival response is due to diminished frontal brain activity, which makes it harder to think clearly. Therefore, when the amygdala is overactive, we may overreact to a stimulus rather than provide a measured response.
By observing our reactions in a loving way, without blaming others, we can start to create new patterns of behavior that will allow us to respond to situations, rather than react.
If you find yourself reacting to a situation:
- Get away from the other person (they could be reacting too) and allow yourself some “space” to process the reaction.
- Ask yourself how you are feeling, for example angry or hurt.
- Learn to just observe this feeling with love (no judgment or blame). In the past you may have had good reason to feel like this and your feelings were not validated.
- Acknowledge and validate the feeling, whatever it may be.
- In the process of containing and observing the feeling, an unconscious belief or attitude may come to the surface, such as: “I hate men,” which is fueling your anger. This is probably not going to support your having a great current day relationship with a man and could create an area in your life which is not flowing.
- Once you are aware of the thought (awareness is the key to growth) you can change it to something that supports you, such as: “I love men,” which will manifest in more fulfilling relationships.
Awareness of your inner world over time allows you to gain some understanding of your subconscious world and the thoughts that are often blocking your way to peace and happiness. When you engage in this process you will be able to begin to take charge of your horses and drive your chariot where you would like to go, arriving safely at your destination.