Do not deny what comes up with your reaction. Reactions aren’t all bad--as some distorted spiritual teachings claim them to be. There are times when they show us where we can no longer accept certain behavior or treatment from another.
Nowadays, many of us are turning towards spirituality and ancient wisdom teachings to enhance our lives and look deeper within. We may have realized that conventional ways are not working so well anymore. Please be aware that it is actually important to learn to engage safely in spiritual practice...who knew?! This way of living should be approached in a balanced way where we can discern what is right for us and what does not serve us.
For the most part, the teachings and teachers are not questioned. Instead they are revered and followed very devoutly. Although it may be seen as “unspiritual” to some, these teachings have to be reviewed or questioned just like anything else. Don’t get me wrong...there are many gifts wrapped in these ancient teachings. There are also many ways that, if practiced to an extreme, these teachings can put you into danger; especially if you are in a vulnerable state or have endured trauma in your life.
What is lacking in many spiritual communities is a healthy balance between respecting our humanness and connecting with our spirit. We need not abandon one for the other. Some people who seek out spirituality are lacking in psychological and emotional awareness, causing them to use the teachings to bypass their humanness in the name of “ego transcendence.” I hate to tell you...but we are stuck with our egos...they are not going anywhere anytime soon!
The ego-mind likes to think and act on our behalf, therefore; it has its own agenda and wants to protect us from our past experiences even though they are not happening in the present. This is understandable and we have to remember that our egos try their best (although limited in their approaches) when they perceive danger in our current environment. Your ego is not “bad” and should not be gotten rid of. Our egos, in fact, allow us to think critically, solve problems, understand interactions, make decisions, discern right from wrong, analyze data and sort through information. If you deny your ego entirely, the workings of your mind can become partially disabled and you may be unable to perform these tasks in any balanced way because you won’t trust your own thoughts and actions. This can be very dangerous!
Even some spiritual teachers, who boast of this transcendence, have the biggest and most destructive egos of all, and ironically, this is all playing out unconsciously...without them even noticing. Or sometimes they are very well aware and simply on a power high. If a teacher is denying the existence of their ego (or thoughts/behaviors/patterns) in an effort to keep their spiritual image, they are also denying their “dark-side”. These parts that are being rejected subconsciously come up and control their life through unconscious behaviors and repeating patterns; even harming others around them who trust them and are wanting to be of service and give of their hearts. Certain spiritual teachers, caught up in their own egos and unconsciously denying their “darkness”, steer us away from expressing a reaction in any way and so we may not recognize the important messages for us that often come along with them.
Let’s talk about “reactions” and the shame that often comes up when daring to allow yourself to actually have them. Overly spiritual people might say that the reaction is just “resistance” to “what is” and that you should “accept things the way they are”. In the case that you are unable to accept “what is”, for any variety of reasons (or are unable to take the spiritual route and you do have a reaction) you may feel shame because you have not practiced the teachings in the best way possible. Or maybe you think that you are not worthy of this spiritual practice because you aren’t doing it right and are getting away from your intention.
Sometimes, it is just not complete to say that you are just in resistance or that you should accept things as they are. There is more for us to see here. In cases of abuse or manipulation, why should we just accept what is? Maybe we should not. Maybe we should speak out for what is right or say those facts that someone who is abusive wouldn’t want to get out. Actually, I think that is exactly what we should do. Because whatever abuse or dysfunction is going on is enabled by us being quiet or just accepting it. The cycle will continue if we spiritualize our reaction to these types of dynamics. This is a case where you can use your ego-mind to discern what is right for you to do...but not if someone has convinced you to believe the ego is all bad and should be thrown to the wolves!
Let’s say you are overwhelmed by your life circumstances and you feel like you are reaching a breaking point. You may have a reaction. In this case, feeling the emotions strongly enough to get into the reaction may actually be healthy for you in order to make a change.
We are taught that reactions come up from unresolved circumstances, in the form of triggers, from our past. When something irritates or angers us, we should:
I agree with this teaching in principle and it has been beneficial to me--increasing my capacity in many areas. However, if you are in an abusive situation, or are constantly pushed too far over your edge of comfort, this teaching can be practiced in a distorted way.
In a spiritual community, we learn that once we have dropped the energy behind the reaction (calmed down) and have the ability to respond...then we can approach the person who triggered us. That is a good plan...except that, at this point, we may have prematurely forgotten about the impact of the abusive person or forgiven them for their actions, even if it was not a forgivable thing that they did. Yes, I said it...some things are unforgivable!
If we spiritualize everything and live in some ethereal realm floating above ourselves, completely detached from our humanness, then we may allow people to treat us in many ways that are not healthy, not conducive to our growth, or even keep us in cycles of trauma. We could be spiritually bypassing our reaction and denying our own feelings about it in an effort to “let go of”, “relax with”, or even “surrender to” it. What we are actually doing, in many cases, is suppressing the reaction. Beware, what you may be “surrendering” to is abuse!
Let’s talk about the messages that accompany reactions.
Maybe you are in a circumstance where you are under a lot of pressure at work and your partner isn’t very supportive (seems to be a common example these days). So, something sets you off and you “flip out” and start screaming at them about how you can’t do this anymore and then realize that you have to make a big change--that is probably accurate. And yet, if you are trying to follow extreme spiritual teachings on reactions then you may think you should just drop it or let it go and wait until you drop the energetic charge and can respond. Here, you stay with the partner; you stay at the job.
This is an alternative: when you lose your temper, allow your reaction to reveal to you that you have to make a big change. Look at it. Investigate: what is it trying to tell you? Question it...let it be there. Be with it. Don’t be afraid...this takes courage.
You know, if you “breathe” enough with it (especially many different times with the same trigger) and it passes, you may just conclude that you are in a reaction based on your “past programming” and you were wrong to think those things. Or maybe you can respond instead when you drop the energetic charge. By that time, you have probably talked yourself out of what you know you need to do...once again. This breathing and acceptance may happen again and again with you believing it is your own internal work to do; giving the other person a pass.
Of course, others shouldn’t be continuously subjected to your reactions. There are ways to express them--or you can learn to listen to yourself before they become so forceful. You should note: if they come up often, you need to take action or you may stay complacent under terrible conditions.
So, what if this big blast of energy in the form of a reaction is informing you that you are to make a change? Oftentimes, it is. Don’t throw out the information it gave you just because it came up the way it did. Don’t walk out of alignment with yourself, your body, and what you know you must do. Yes, by all means you can wait to calm down before you respond, but don’t miss the point! Use your reaction to empower yourself to see the truth of the matter. Reach a place where you are not overtaken by emotions, can act calmly, and discern what is appropriate for you.
Allow taking care of yourself and feeling safe to be your biggest priority. Realize that the reaction arrived for a reason. You may constantly be putting yourself over your edge where you will face anxiety, depression, rage, and shutdown.
In my experience, this is the core of many episodes of anxiety: knowing you should do something and not following your knowledge and intuition to change something in your life. Instead, you may find yourself discarding this information, not listening to yourself, feeling too much fear to do something different, maybe denying what you feel in your body. And so you avoid making a decision, maybe unknowingly justify another’s actions. Sit in what does not serve you. You are crawling in your skin. And you feel awful.
Maybe you KNOW you should get away from your partner who you constantly argue with or leave the abusive job that requires way too much of your energy... and that’s what causes you to be very reactive. Instead of believing you are the problem, realize that you need to create a solution-- and follow through with it. Even if it feels unnatural and impossible because it is not your usual pattern--get some support and go with it!
Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. As in, don’t ignore the action that came to you--just because it came in the form of a re-ACTION.
You need not over-spiritualize your humanness. The gift of this life is to experience the richness of your human side, both dark and light, as you connect to your spirit--grounded on this earth.
Sometimes You Get Stuck in Chicago: 5 Lessons From My Life as a Pilgrim by Dr. Jamie (Pragya) Marich
I detest Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. As a frequent flyer for business, I’m usually good for several stops at O’Hare each year—and the busy-ness, disorganization, and delays that come with it. At least one major delay at O’Hare goes down each year, and I’ve even slept on the airport floor in a makeshift sleeping bag constructed of airline blankets. A few year’s back I even nicknamed Chicago O’Hare the mouse trap of America. Since it’s so busy, if there is a delay or nuisance at O’Hare, travel throughout all of North American can get clogged up big time.
Oddly enough I managed to go a whole year without my routes running through O’Hare. Then, when I received my opportunity to go on my first spiritual pilgrimage to India, a work commitment in Chicago necessitated that I fly out of O’Hare. I thought little of it when I booked as I was simply overjoyed that there was a direct flight to Delhi! The night before I was scheduled to leave, I received the notification via text. My flight would be delayed... by 16 hours! For a moment my head started to spin into the hysterics of “This isn’t fair! I’m going to lose more than a whole day from my plans, just when I cleared the space to go to India. See, the universe hates me after all!”
My breath quickly found me and I realized—this is spiritual pilgrimage. Expect the unexpected. It’s supposed to be challenging and yes, the pilgrimage goes through Chicago. You know what that means; another change to cultivate patience through the art of waiting. Another chance to curse life for not working and being inconvenient, only to take that breath and realize my gratitude for even being able to go to India in the first place, especially when so many people are suffering there and in the world over. And maybe that’s what pilgrimage intends to teach us? Patience. Patience with ourselves and the process...
Pilgrimage comes from Latin meaning “to cross a threshold.” The art of pilgrimage has played a vital role in my life in a way I never could have expected as an American elementary student who first heard the term in reference to English colonial Separatists with funny hats. I worked in Medjugorje, Bosnia-Hercegovina—a major pilgrimage site in the modern Catholic world— from 2001-2003. Traveling there as a pilgrim myself first brought me to this sleepy town that would transform my life. I’ve also been drawn to major sites and pilgrimage-retreat experiences in the Catholic world and in the traditions of other faiths in which I take refuge. India was long on my wish list of pilgrimage sites and in the weeks leading up to the trip, I was giddy with excitement that I would be exploring a place that long felt like a soul home!
Oddly enough, the intention I set for this pilgrimage was to receive further help with patiently relaxing into the uncertainty. I’m in the midst of two separate struggles in both my personal and professional life; the epic stuff that may end up in my memoirs someday. The common denominator in both situations is waiting with uncertainty for an outcome to unfold where I have no control over the workings of other people, places, or moving parts. I know that being outcome-focused is futile; enough spiritual study has certainly revealed this truth to me. Yet relaxing into the uncertainties and trusting in the true nature of Self is a challenge to my still healing limbic brain. I am still a human being with human desires and frailties, which is why I continue to practice, work on myself, and yes, make pilgrimage. So naturally the Divine started on me before I even got to India.
An additional three hours of delay with boarding and tarmac issue, plus the fifteen hour flight, gave me plenty of time to reflect on what the pilgrimages of my life have taught me thus far. First, although pilgrimage may involve any crossing of a threshold that requires you to step outside of your comfort zone, travel if you can, as the ancients did when making pilgrimage. Travel is the ultimate metaphor for life. Travel reveals and builds character as you are challenged to deal with things like global events, the weather, delays, and everything that comes with stepping outside of your normal routine.
Which leads to the second lesson—pilgrimage is supposed to be challenging. To intone the wisdom of Jimmy Dugan, one of my favorite characters played by Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own, “If it were easy than everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.” Dealing with the hard, the obstacles that life throws at us, builds our spiritual muscles and forces us to rely on the spiritual resources that many of us hope to strengthen by sitting in the temples or praying in the shrines. If you allow it to, getting there may strengthen you more than what happens when you actually arrive.
In the Croatian language the word for pilgrim (hodačašće) comes from the same root as the word to walk (hodati). That is why for many faithful in a variety of traditions, walking is vital to the journey. Think of El Camino de Santiago, probably the most famous pop culture reference for this phenomenon. While certain destinations are made more accessible as technology develops, one can still embrace travel with the step-by-step, slow pace that walking engenders. This means accepting the delays as part of the process. This is my third lesson learned in my life as a pilgrim.
There is a saying in recovery that expectations are planned resentment, a lesson that’s been instilled in my life as a pilgrim. Number four—drop your expectations and you’ll be opened up to a whole new world of gifts. My India pilgrimage began with this lesson, as I was originally supposed to go for a training. When the dates got moved and I was unable to change my schedule around, the inner-prompting was to still go, especially because I’d already arranged the time off. With this being the first trip to a country that means so much to me and my spiritual development, it makes more sense to build my own pilgrimage than to be in training with little time to see anything else. I’m in the middle of a process unfolding exactly as it is meant to.
Even on my bonus day in Chicago I got to visit one friend/colleague I wouldn’t have gotten a chance to see otherwise due to her schedule. I had more time to visit with another friend and former student. Plus my hosts and dear friends, Jeff and Bradd, attended to my every need. Not only did they introduce me to a new series that has me rolling on the floor laughing, when I woke up on my bonus day in Chicago, Bradd put out many of his art supplies for me with a note to help myself. Even in the delays, I was given the needed message to rest, to create, and to appreciate connection in all of its forms. And when I finally arrived to India, specifically to my first pilgrimage site of Kripalu Samadhi Mandir in Malav (Gujarat), I appreciated the day I had there with renewed vigor instead of grieving the day and a half I lost.
The grand lesson in all of this is that life is the pilgrimage. We are sometimes called to make pilgrimage so that we can be reminded of the skills we need the most as we navigate the journey of life on this plane. I trust that the pilgrimage that I am on presently is nourishing me for the most important pilgrimage of all—the journey to go deeper within. This pilgrimage is constantly revealing the true source of my nature and my pilgrim soul—the Divine fusion of consciousness and energy, the only love story that really matters. When I am fully aware of this Divine presence within me, I can more fully let go of life’s stressors because I know that I am releasing them to this timeless source.
Am I still a work in process with all of this? Until this human brain of mine is fully healed, until the Arjuna within me realizes that he is really Krishna on the field of battle in The Bhagavad Gitaand until I can fully relax into the uncertainty of life, I continue to be a pilgrim. I continue to learn, I continue to grow, and I continue to release more and more of what weighs me down. I travel much lighter than I used to, and I travel joyfully.
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