Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Reactivity - a meaningful portal to change

One of my activities in 2019 was taking a class organized by the St. Louis YWCA based on the book Witnessing Whiteness, by Shelly Tochluk.  We were a group of 20 white people exploring together the history of whiteness, how and why it began, the unearned privilege that goes along with it, and a beginning discovery of what’s next.  The experience clarified my understanding of myself and the world I live in, and also deepened my understanding of the origins and structure of systemic power abuses, which do not occur accidentally.

To dismantle structural systems of power abuse and domination, I believe that in addition to actions we take in the world, we need to turn toward the places within ourselves where we’ve internalized those systems. In other words, we need to turn towards the personal and collective trauma which resides within each of us: the places where we react instead of respond.  We need to bring our presence and curiosity to the  places in our bodies and nervous systems where a part of us remains stuck or frozen, which, when unconscious, lead to us either unconsciously acting out of power abuse or enabling it to continue to us or around us.

Practice begins with a willingness to be curious and turn towards our own reactivity: to notice when we’re afraid and lashing out in contempt, running away, defending, freezing inside, avoiding or stonewalling.  The first step of noticing our reactivity is easier than it may seem:

In what interactions does your heart pound? Your pulse rate begin to rise or significantly slow? When do you notice yourself planning your response instead of listening? Closing down to possibilities? Endlessly replaying mentally what you wish had been your response? Or fantasizing about another reality? These are some (not all) signifiers of reactivity, which is a wake-up call to embodied presence.  

One of the ways the roots of our reactivity stay hidden from awareness is thinking something like, “In this instance my reactivity is justified because the problem is in the other (person, gender, group, etc.)”   There may be a need to focus on the other, and we may indeed need to take external actions.

However, since abandoning our own inner process doesn’t lead to anything new, innovative, connecting, or healing, we also need to turn within.

Practicing open, curious mind; compassionate heart; and grounded actions / willingness aligns our minds, hearts and bodies, empowers us, and orients us with shared power.  Regular practice makes it easier to notice a drift, so we can cultivate curiosity and turn toward what is happening within us instead.  It’s important to remind ourselves that reactivity and shutting down is part of a coping system:  actually it’s most likely a protection that was beneficial at an earlier stage of development.  One of my teachers, Thomas Huebl, calls these behaviors “childhood heroes.”  I like that because it reminds me that the path is to turn towards what is happening within me not with blame or harshness for my reactivity, but with compassion and curiosity to  enable learning and another possibility to emerge.  This moves me into facing, discovery, relating and responding (relationship and response-ability) which is the ground of dismantling systems of oppression and moving into empowerment and shared power instead.  One step at a time!

As we complete 2019 and move into 2020 - a new day, year and decade, my intention for myself and wish for all of us is turning towards our reactivity with curiosity and compassion to discovery new possibilities that honor the life flowing through each us, and honor our interconnection with all beings. 

Blessings to you and Happy New Year!

P.S.  Join me for my Embodied Integrity Playshop Series - 3 months beginning January 17.  
Details here.  

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