Thursday, February 20, 2014

To React is Human, To Respond, Divine

Image by Brandon Stanton, HONY
I enjoy following Brandon Stanton's Humans of New York (or HONY) because it often reveals the profound wisdom of the "human on the street." One entry in particular from a South Asian couple is particularly meaningful to me:

"It is important to maintain your equanimity. You cannot let yourself get too ‘up’ or too ‘down’ based on your circumstances."

“Too ‘down’ I understand. But why not too ‘up?’” Stanton asks.

“Because the higher your mountains are, the deeper your valleys will seem. You should not react to the world. You should respond, but not react. A response is an action based on logic. A reaction is an emotional state. Your reaction will not change the world. Your reaction only changes you. Your response will change the world.”

Count to ten. Walk away. Breathe out.  Stew. I am still in my reactive stage of development. I react less than I used to, but when anything happens that I don’t like--rejection, waiting, disagreement, harsh unexpected things--I react. All my demons come to the fore like pigs after slop. They feed on my joy, my positive energy. They whisper the songs of my youth: “You're no good. Everyone hates you. No one will ever understand. You are alone. You should be afraid.” I used to struggle against them and claw for the light only to slip more into darkness. Now I am aware that they are there. Now I watch them.  I say, "Tomorrow it will be better. I am tired now. No, I don’t know what the future holds. All is for the best.” I do not engage. I do not listen. I say, only if I must, that I do not know. I treat my reactive demons like I would a madman on a New York street corner who shouts mindless epithets at me: I run the gauntlet and pass them by. This seems to innervate them instead of me. Their assertion cannot stand against logic, the freedom of the moment, or the unknown. Soon I forget the disruption ever happened, and the negative voices fade away. Then in the place of demons comes a response, well-crafted and wise, emerging from the calm of my thoughts, as if hidden in the flow of all the fear that had been clothing it, masking it, protecting it was an invaluable truth that is mine only if I am worthy of facing down all the lies to get it.