By Steven Hodes, M.D.
Physician to Meta-Physician
You can exercise the mind and get a good healing work out by exorcising reactive behavior.
We are immersed in a society which extols the virtue of physical exercise–the ‘work-out’ is an important aspect of the lives of many individuals. Eight-pack abs, a miniscule percent of body fat, the most time per week drowning in our own sweat–these are societal virtues these days.
What is less well considered? A work-out of our minds. Without consciously thinking about our lives, the choices we make on a daily basis, the people we call our friends, the attitudes we have towards the world and those around us, we increase our propensity to exhibit ‘reactive behavior’. What is ‘reactive behavior’? This is simply our immediate feelings that arise when faced with circumstances in our lives or the actions of others. The feelings that arise immediately are from a deep place within our psyches which frequently represent responses conditioned from our past. Most of these originate from fear. Fear of rejection, fear of ridicule, fear of being unloved, fear of being alone and others.
Many of these reactions have layered themselves over our lifetimes as emotional responses to all of these situations. Many occurred when we were quite young and vulnerable emotionally. Our immediate reactions to what we perceive as insults or attacks is to either shrink back into ourselves or more likely, attack back.
These are not responses that we can or should suppress. They represent real feelings and should be examined by us with a dispassionate approach. They represent aspects of ourselves in need of healing. An obvious, often discussed form of such behavior is ‘road rage’. Individuals become so incredibly angry when someone cuts in front of them, or does not respond to their driving maneuvers that they are willing to literally kill them. From what deep childhood assault to our sense of being could such a reaction arise? In order to ponder, even for a milisecond, killing someone over a perceived insult or assault must reflect some immensely deep pain or fear.
A form of self-analysis may be useful to try to uncover why we are so ‘reactive’. To uncover the source of these reactive feelings may enlighten us as to other emotional responses that we exhibit on a more subtle level every day. Perhaps we were a bit quick to criticize our spouses, children or employees. Our ‘bad moods’ may reflect our displeasure over some statement or deed of another individual which has touched us in some deeply repressed emotionally vulnerable place.
Now, these statements do not imply that we are wrong to feel strong reactions to the words or deeds of others. We may very well have been insulted or abused and such actions do deserve appropriate responses. However, it is the powerful emotional content of our responses which should be allowed to settle down. When vitriole follows insult, emotional responses may obscure the valid source of our offense. There are some individuals who can become incredibly coherent and cogent during such times. For most of us, however, strong emotion makes us less rational and much less articulate than we need to be at these times.
But, how do we deal with these feelings? Through the thoughtful process of analysis and evaluation of how we create states of consciousness for ourselves. Just being aware that our responses may be ‘over-reactive’ and produce more conflict and aggression than originally intended may allow us to take a deep breath before responding to any perceived attack.
Just be aware that our responses are clues to our mind’s own wounds in need of healing. It never hurts to step away from the emotions churning within us to evaluate whether our initial response may be:
1. Excessive. Resulting in an emotional rebuttal from the other.
2. Irrational. Perhaps the individual did not realize how their statement could be taken as an insult.
3. Inappropriate. We might discover that the individual has their own burden of emotional pain and is unable to deal with it maturely, while we are more equipped to do so.
We might decide that not responding or perhaps cutting a relationship off is the appropriate response anyway. We might actually feel compassion for their state of mind which leaves them perpetually angry, fearful and in pain. Living within that individual’s state of mind is far more punishment than any response we might offer.
The point is this: There is always time to ponder the risk and benefit of responding. Not reacting immediately does not give the assailant the ‘upper hand’. With some time to ponder and analyze the situation, the response may be: none at all; a decision not to deal with that individual again; time for a dispassionte, cogent and rational response which might have much more impact than an emotional response. If you take the appropriate amount of time to step back, there may even be an impression left upon the perpetrator that they have been ‘found out’ as someone who may be in pain, or unkind, or foolish. When confronted with a rational observation, they may actually apologize for their action, rather than become reactive themselves.
Such reasoned and measured responses can only have a chance of being utilized if one has pondered such issues in advance. As with meditation, a trained-mind is more in control of itself. It is also capable of choosing how it wants to view the world. A trained-mind might have already pondered the choice between optimism and pessimism, for example.
When confronted with the inevitable pain in life, the trained-mind might realize that all mortal beings are inevitably confronted with difficulties. Such a trained-mind is less likely to see themselves as victims of life’s viscissitudes and more aware of the universal nature of pain and suffering. A trained-mind realizes that how we choose to react to life’s pains can exacerbate or ameliorate our suffering.
In truth, we would all be happier when we can become ‘healed’ or made whole. Such an achievement requires a ‘tight’ mind as well as a ‘tight’ body.
© Steven E. Hodes, MD., 2006
Steven E. Hodes, M.D. is a board certified gastroenterologist with over 25 years private practice based in Edison and Old Bridge New Jersey. He also has a degree in Religious Studies and teaches Contemporary Metaphysics at Brookdale College as well as lecturing and writing on Kabbalah and Healing, the Jewish View of Afterlife and on Near-Death Experience. Visit him at his Blog, Physician to Meta-Physician at www.meta-md.com