The concept of the Cycle of Reaction can help us to appreciate and enjoy some important benefits of mindfulness practice in our everyday life. In particular it shows us how mindfulness helps us to get better at moving from reaction to response.
The sequence works like this:
Many times a day things happen to which we have a reaction. For instance, someone who did me a bad turn walks into a restaurant where I am about to have dinner.
I react to this with thoughts, memories, emotions and physical feelings. I tense up, I feel angry at their presence, how dare they even be here, I think, as I recall what they did.
I am now relating to all of those things going on in my head and in my body, namely the memory, thoughts, physical tensing and so on and not just to the bare reality of what has happened. I have forgotten about my dinner and I am lost in my anger about this person. But all that has actually happened is that a person I have reason to dislike has walked into the restaurant.
The next stage in the cycle is that I act under the influence of my reactions. In other words I act on autopilot if you like. So, for instance, I may tell myself that the whole occasion is now ruined, and leave the restaurant. Then I spend the evening thinking and complaining about this person while feeling upset.
When you practise mindfulness you build your capacity to notice these reactions before they take over.
Then you can choose a response, whether that is to do nothing or to act.
So in this case, when that person walks into the restaurant you notice your thoughts and feelings, etc flaring up. But instead of getting lost in those reactions, you bring your attention to your breath or perhaps to the experience of your body sitting in the chair. In this way you avoid that trance state.
Now, instead of being in a trance, you can consider what choices you have in the situation. These still include leaving but they also include staying and getting on with your dinner, or maybe even talking to the person. I am not saying that one response is better than the other but at least it’s a chosen response. When you act in mindfulness you are more likely to choose a response which is in your interests. Also, in my experience, you are more likely to feel good about whatever response you do choose.
And it doesn’t just apply to “live” scenes like the one I’ve used in the example. The “something” that happens to start the sequence could be a memory. For instance it could be the memory of the bad turn that this person has done. That, again, can throw you into that circle of reactions, trance and behaviour – the behaviour in this case could be to lie awake at night going over what happened. Instead, whenever the memory strikes you, you can observe these reactions kicking off, and you can step back into awareness of breath or body.
This is one of the ways in which mindfulness practice can bring a greater experience of peace into your life.
The above article is an edited extract from my 15 lesson online course Easy Mindfulness. Payment for the course is by donation. More information
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