I’m in Mumbai on a visa run with my girlfriend. She needs to update the resident visa for her and the kids. It’s an amazing city. The city juts out on a small peninsular and forms a number of long curving bays. So as you drive around the old British empire areas you are constantly catching glimpses of it’s skyline with tall skyscraper buildings that stretch out into the distance. There must be thousands of them. Despite the crowd of buildings and roads jammed with people and traffic, its tree lined streets give the city a lazy charm.
I’m here writing this post in the visa centre in Mumbai waiting for our ticket number to come up. They say that the British invented bureaucracy and the Indians perfected it. My experience with the bureaucracy here has sometimes pushed many of my buttons. And it’s not just the bureaucracy, it’s also the every-man-for-himself approach to getting service. You can be waiting at a counter for your turn, and someone will just squeeze in front of you like you don’t exist and start asking questions to who ever is behind the counter. This is where I get outraged: the counter person will stop serving who they are currently serving, and serve this rude person straight away, before you, even though you have been waiting patiently for your turn! It’s outrageous!
It’s mad and you have to laugh otherwise you go crazy. So sitting here in the middle of Indian bureaucracy I’m thinking about the reactions we have and how they can send us off on completely different tangents of emotions.
Reactions aren’t bad, but they can be very draining to us if we’re constantly reacting to everything going on around us. Which might be why we hate bureaucracy. And what’s worse is that the way we think can take a very small incident and turn it into a huge reaction. Huge.
This is where it becomes problematic. Our reactions and what we start to think in the midst of a reaction can dramatically affect what you want to experience in your life. If you act out of reaction it can be very damaging, either to you or those around you and it’s something that you might regret after things calm down.
So what do I mean by reactions? Well, when you get pissed off and then start to mentally and emotionally grind on what pissed you off or hurt you. The big reactions happen when it triggers the core emotional traumas that shape our experience. These are when we can feel a deep sense of loss, pain and grief. Even if the event that triggers us is quite small in comparison. Like when something reminds us of a deep emotional pain that we carry and suddenly it just brings it all back up again. That’s a classic reaction. But there are many variations of this. And it all has the same effect. We are caught up in the experience of the reaction and can’t navigate the experience. Almost like we’re trapped. This will then taint our experience.
So let’s break it down.
There is an emotional and mental component to reactions.
Sometimes you just react emotionally. You get hurt or angry and that emotion stays with you. It’s hard to shake it off. This is more common when events happen that shock us. We don’t see it coming. It could be a sudden death in the family. Or a violent confrontation. A sudden relationship breaks up. But the effect is we are in the emotion and we are out of our minds. It’s beyond belief. It’s devastating. You might call it a “pure reaction”. Kids go through this all the time. Just because they don’t have a context for what is happening to them. The feel it deeply.
It’s these types of emotions that get retriggered later on in our life, but they come with a mental reaction – which is the other type of reaction. We can call it the “twisted reaction”. The emotion is there, but our minds have latched onto the emotional reaction is working overtime. It’s outraged. The voices in our head might be screaming, or complaining, or debating about what has triggered us, grinding away at appropriate responses or actions. And this goes on until our minds can think of something to actually do about it – which is very hard to do when your mind is working none stop.
But here’s the thing. Usually, it’s what we think that triggers us in a given emotional event. It’s what we think about other peoples emotional state and the way they behave, or what they say, that makes us react. We don’t like it. For example, you see a behaviour from a co worker that you disapprove of and then you get angry, and you start to think about what to do about it. Or your friend says something political, which you disagree with, and then you’re triggered, you debate with them for hours and next you’re re-evaluating everything about your friendship with them. Or your house mate does that thing that annoys you, again, and you that’s it, you can’t live with them anymore.
(And then you calm down and everything is cool again.)
It’s our thinking that triggers us. And by thinking here I mean our beliefs, our values and our identity. All the things that make up our ego. These things are very important to our sense of self, so I’m not saying our ego is bad, I’m saying that we just need to be aware of it so we can navigate and transform our experience when we get triggered into a reaction.
How we see ourselves in the world informs what how we think about life, and when that gets challenged we react. But it’s something we decide. We allow it to happen. Mostly in unconscious ways, otherwise we’d probably catch the reaction. But also, because we believe we are right about how we think about and see the world, and when people say or do otherwise it actually threatens us. Our emotions and our identity.
And it goes even further.
The thing I’ve noticed – and this includes me – many times our minds, our thoughts, trigger our emotional reactions, even if nothing has actually happened! It’s just we are thinking about some possible event, trying to interpret it, or the meaning of something and suddenly our mood changes. We’re in a reaction. For example, I let a friend down a few months ago, nothing huge, but I made a promise to them and I couldn’t deliver. I let other things that seemed more of a priority at the time get in the way of doing what I said I would do. They were pissed. It was important to them. And it’s all good now, but they hardly spoke to me for a couple months and I started to think our friendship was over. And as I started thinking I started having reactions. And there were all these thoughts about how to respond to my friend supposedly ending the friendship. The more I thought about it, the more pissed off I got. Despite all of that thinking and reacting, I decided to do nothing until I saw them again. Then suddenly I start getting messages from them and they apologise for going off the grid and not speaking to me – they’d just been deeply consumed by a huge work project and hadn’t been in touch, but they couldn’t wait to catch up with me! Phew.
So I totally could have overblown a tiny thing all because of what I was thinking (and incidentally not communicating). I’ve seen relationships end over these types of scenarios. So as you can see, and probably already know, this is why we want to be aware of our reactions.
So what to do about reactions?
A few points.
Reactions are part of our experience. They happen. Just try to have enough awareness about when you’re having them and don’t make any big decisions until you’re feeling back to your best again.
The quickest way to navigate reactions is to get out of your mind and stop thinking. I’ve noticed in my life that the more I’m in awarenesses the less I have reactions. That’s because I’m in the moment. I’m not thinking about the past of the future, or about possible scenarios playing out. I’m just absorbed in what I’m doing. And when events do happen in the moment, being in awareness means I’m out of my mind, I’m not thinking, and I’m in a state that gives me more focus, clarity and insight.
What’s better is that I often don’t have them when I’m in the moment. I just respond in a very calm way. I might shout back at someone, but I’m calm about it.
Then get into approval of what you feel. By this, I mean the actual emotional reaction that is there. If you’re in awareness then you’ll be able to feel this much more clearly. What changes when you get into approval of it?
Then start to get in touch with what you want to feel instead. What’s the authentic desire? Get into approval of it. And then let the insight that comes with awareness, the approval you feel, and your authentic desire give you the direction and action to take. This will create what you want to experience instead.
I’ve noticed many this many times, you’ll find there is actually nothing you need do about the reaction that has occurred. It’s just the reactive mind made up this whole drama. And that’s the only thing that needs to be done. Stop creating drama.
Unless you love the drama and gives you an experience you want! Then have fun!
And the last thing to say is you don’t have to have a reaction to act on what you believe, value, or your sense of self. You can just act because it’s the right thing to do. Sometimes we don’t act unless it triggers us, but if we acted in a way that backs up what we believe in many of these reactions wouldn’t concern us. It might not be easy to live this way, but it’s a lot more fulfilling to create the experience you want in your life than to live it between the ordinary routine and the drama of dealing with the reactions that come up.
But that’s up to you and what you want.
So as I’m finishing this post off my girlfriend comes back from the visa interview. This is now our second day here after she was told yesterday, after waiting nearly an hour, she needed to refile because of discrepancies that have developed when she originally filed online two months ago. This then involves us calling lawyers to refile online and getting new colour print outs. The other way would have meant standing in a hot sun for a clerk to refile it for us. The way she looks at me I know they found something else to stop the process. Her passport expiry is off by a few days and so she’ll need to get a new passport to get the residence visa. This will take months, but she tells me this with absolute calm as if she’s used to it. This also means we will have to come back to Mumbai when the new passports are done to finish the process. I’m happy about this because we’ve been here two days only and there is much more to see.
But for a second I feel myself get pissed off. I’m in approval of it and it suddenly dissolves. I’m not pissed off. I just want to get a coffee with the girls and stare out into the beautiful sun kissed bay of Mumbai before we have to rush to the airport to get our flight home to Goa.
So we do that instead.
If you’re new to my work then you need to understand that the three core principles to create clarity, approval and excitement in your life are: awareness, self-approval and authentic desire. To get into this you need a practice, you need techniques. This is what I teach. Check out my courses to see what suits, or if you would like to explore a free online coaching session I’ll be happy to take you through the process (schedule permitting). You can reach me always at email@example.com