You Are Not Your Reactions, Part 1

It is very important to recognize that the reactions we feel are not necessarily who we are. These reactions that seem part of us—how we react—are very much about who we were as beings in the past.

Whether we’re speaking of our physical actions, our speech, or the activity of our mind—especially our mental and emotional activity—they are actually nothing but reactions. And they are very interesting when we study them closely.

One doesn’t have to be, let’s say, a “jealous person,” but any individual may be provoked and suddenly become very jealous or possessive. Afterward, that same person may even wonder, “How come I became so jealous?” Or someone who does not generally feel very attached might suddenly find themselves reacting as if they were quite attached. In his reactions to a particular set of causes and conditions, someone who is normally a secure person will react quite insecurely.

These tendencies to react are stored in the mindstream (Sanskrit: alaya) and when they are activated by certain causes and conditions, these “seeds” will give rise to corresponding reactions. The person who is not usually very attached will act out of attachment, someone who is not jealous will act jealously, a person who is not insecure will act insecurely, and someone who is generally peaceful will become aggressive.

When such reactions occur, we need to have the capacity to dissociate ourselves from the reactions that are happening. This is especially important for a meditator. What sense is there in being a meditator without being able to look at our reactions or neurotic behavior in this way? But that is not to say that meditators don’t have these kinds of reactions, just as anyone else. Meditators do react.

So, my point here is that your meditation is separate from the reactions, and these reactions are past habitual tendencies which have been stored in the mindstream.

Sometimes when you are meditating, and the meditation is going quite well with a very clear, unobstructed meditation, there are no seeds or tendencies present. But at other times, even a good meditator might react. It almost seems like these reactions come straight out of ignorance, yet they also arise from a necessity for the ego to flare out into the world. Of course, our behavior is most likely distorted and not very considered when we are reacting like this. But, nonetheless, I think it is quite interesting to notice that a good meditator can react in these very conventional ways, so to speak, and seem quite jealous, or angry, or insecure.

When we are reacting, even though this may not be apparent outwardly, inwardly there is still a reaction. Of course the outward reactions are much easier to control and work with. The inward reaction is much harder.

So, during these inward reactions, the first skill that is needed—when one is feeling jealousy or any of the negative emotions—in relation to a situation, a particular person, or in reaction to some disturbing speech, is development of a sort of second awareness. Such an awareness can see through the reaction and the whole process,  knowing what is happening and knowing it will just wear out by itself.

This type of awareness has a mature quality: the ability to see that these complex emotions are rather deep and that they will take time to be completely cleaned up or cleared. Until that point one doesn’t attain complete enlightenment, yet at the same time, even now one can have an awareness that this is not so threatening because it is not solid. It is not black and white. These inner reactions do not create negative karma, so they are not dangerous in that sense. They are similar to any other arising thoughts which create no karma unless you become caught up in them and act them out.

Secondly, if you can avoid being heavy on yourself, you can also allow your skill as a practitioner or an attentive person to prevent the ordinary confusion, and maintain your sense of sanity apart from these reactions. When you can remain lighthearted, and sort of watch all this as you would a child’s emotions, then it wears out very fast and helps to burn up the seeds in the mindstream. When this happens a few times, or after many times, at some point a person gains real confidence.

With these tools, although you may still react, it doesn’t totally take you over or control you. You don’t become the reaction any longer, losing the sense of your own sanity. You don’t lose the thread of the work that you’ve been doing to become sane, and to become free in order go beyond.

Most of the the time people are just not very aware, for one thing. So they are not aware that these are simply reactions, that reactions do happen and that a person is not the reactions they are having. There is a separate person, a whole person, but this is just a very small part of the whole which is reacting.

There’s often some confusion about this, which is also lack of awareness. It’s as if a small portion of the whole is seen as the whole thing. Not only that, but at the same time there is a tremendous judgment about how bad this is, or how terrible.

So there can be a considerable amount of self-aggression that arises along with this lack of awareness. The unconscious mind automatically reacts aggressively and labels the behavior as wrong or awful. Inwardly, we exhibit a puritanical view of the self, a self-expectation that we should be as pure as the Buddha, without any reactions, and then we try to keep all this from erupting inside.

This sort of dynamic happens inside oneself, and causes explosions. It prevents us from being able to work with our mind in a mature fashion and in accordance with the practices we’ve learned. We can strive to attain balance by first having this awareness that such reactions exist, and then by not needing to suppress or condemn ourselves at the same time.

Taken from: Personal Link # 92 Given on  1/2/2011

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Practice, Self-Reflection