If I had to be within the system (which, of course, I had to), I was either trying to escape it or trying to control it--either physically or emotionally. Thus began a series of behaviors and ways of being that have been both beneficial and harmful throughout my life, but it has shaped who I am today and how I respond to the world at large. It most importantly contributed to the inner inquiry that has always fascinated me and is the core passion in my life, but it also contributes to many co-dependent characteristics, including avoidance and control as a way of being and wanting to rescue and/or fix others.
Reaction is our instinctual response to a situation and usually takes no effort or thought. It's what happens when someone pulls out in front of us too closely on a crowded freeway and usually includes expletive epithets and a possible swerve to miss them. These instinctual reactions (like my reaction to fear was to move away from the danger) are fortunately built into our brain stem and are the main reason we have survived as a species this far.
But just as these instincts were totally necessary for our survival to this point, they rarely serve us in the day to day world we now find ourselves. For example, my wanting to control or leave a chaotic and dangerous system served its purpose growing up, but those instinctual reactions tends to do more harm than good when it comes to living healthy relationships today. When we are busy in "fight or flight," there is no room for authenticity, depth or intimacy--it is purely survival mode.
Fortunately, there are tools, such as recovery principles and the practice of mindfulness, that help us learn how to counter-act these instincts and respond more consciously to life and life's situations based on our desired values.
Hanging out on the periphery helped me learn systems thinking and contributed to my ability to be a good visionary and manager--able to see the whole and not just my part. These attributes also help me be a good driver, too.
I recently was reminded of this fear of being too close in dangerous situations when driving with my intimate partner, Jim. He follows the traffic ahead of him much closer than I do and I was beginning to feel panicked on a recent trip. In analyzing this over time, I realized that I leave a lot of room between myself and the traffic ahead. I like to be able to see far enough ahead to observe the traffic patterns as a whole, as well as see the individual cars to the sight distance available.
This means that I can't follow the car in front of me too closely. It also means that if the car in front of me does something spur of the moment, I most likely won't be affected by it. It creates a safety buffer. I'm better able to observe what is happening and make safe choices and I'm less likely to be caught in someone else's drama--be it a personal situation or poor or aggressive driving. Each of which could contribute to a chain reaction of events that may cause much harm and suffering for myself and others.
The same is true with mindfulness and thoughts. In mindfulness, we sit still and observe sensations, sights, sounds, smells, tastes and our thoughts as they arise. We notice them and choose for the moment to not outwardly respond to them. We remain still. With practice, this creates for us an opportunity to choose our response to the thoughts that arise--we have learned to not react instinctually when there is a thought, an itch, a discomfort.
We've created a buffer between the thought and instinctual reaction where we can choose how to respond. A response that can be thought out, given our individual values and desires. We can respond mindfully rather than live in blind reaction. We can choose to work to create peace, joy, and value for ourselves and others. We can look for the highest good for all involved. The choice is then ours and our action becomes a conscious contribution rather than an unconscious reaction.
What I'm tickled by in this latest realization is that my initial instinctual reaction to the danger I lived in as a small child created a chain reaction that has led to my experiencing and understanding mindfulness and mindful action. And while I still have to be cognizant of my instinctual reaction in uncomfortable situations--wanting to flee or control--I less often choose these responses because of the space created between thought and action thanks to my practice. I am better able to stay present, which has led to experiences of authentic and more meaningful exchanges and the ability to give and receive genuine love and loving.