About systemic reactivity
Most of us suffer from a big problem which the Eastern spiritual ideologies have been warning us for a very long time: pathological reactivity.
What does this mean exactly? From reacting to each other without much thinking about our response, to a well-known Brazillian rapper making a video asking people to not rally due to the number of cases of Covid-19 in Brazil and the lack of structure and organization needed to actually tackle systemic racism, to the Dalai Lama making the following statement on his Facebook page:
“Problems arising from attachment and hatred are not eliminated by resorting to the use of force. No one ever achieves complete victory; enemies are never completely vanquished. Because, ultimately, we have to live together, we have to settle our problems through dialogue and negotiation. And to achieve external disarmament requires that we first have a sense of inner disarmament.”
It’s interesting to note the following: a lot of people have been dormant. Regardless of what one thinks about rioting, we all know it stems from reactivity. We all know there are bad apples and sweet apples in activism, and we all know most of us fall in the category of imported apples, I mean — we stand for all, but we come from different backgrounds.
So, the issue of reactivity is a question that has a deep root in the culture we reside in. As an example, as mentioned in my previous article about integrating the alternative into the mainstream, conventional medicine mostly acts on reaction: a pill to a symptom, a treatment to a disease. When more traditional systems of medicine rely on prevention and management of wellbeing.
In personal terms we tend to be reactive when something goes against our deep inculcated moral basis or worse, our pride and self-worth. We become cynical of those who wish us well, and distrusting of good intentions. One of the issues when resolving reactivity is knowing when to act.
My last 6 years have been a test to that: when to act and how to respond appropriately to a problem. Some were easier: should I eat cake or a banana? Others were more difficult: should I let go of this onesided friendship and become even more isolated, or should I continue non-judgement to my own detriment?
Pema Chodron, who I deeply respect, said the following regarding what she calls idiot compassion:
The third near enemy of compassion is idiot compassion. This is when we avoid conflict and protect our good image by being kind when we should definitely say “no.” Compassion doesn’t only imply trying to be good. When we find ourselves in an aggressive relationship, we need to set clear boundaries. The kindest thing we can do for everyone concerned is to know when to say “enough.” Many people use Buddhist ideals to justify self-debasement. In the name of not shutting our heart we let people walk all over us. It is said that in order not to break our vow of compassion we have to learn when to stop aggression and draw the line. There are times when the only way to bring down barriers is to set boundaries.
But what does it actually mean to set boundaries? How does one act on setting boundaries, when those boundaries have been explicit and are often disrespected?
One question I’ve posed often is: “should we tolerate the intolerable?” It’s a deep questioning we can do if we want to understand our own limitations. How far does one tolerance actually go?
I’m a Mindfulness teacher, and I’ve come to discussions with other Mindfulness teachers about the validity of what is called the current McMindfulness. You can read more about it in this article, or in the book that coined the term. Most of seasoned spiritualists have come to an agreement that what it is now passed as mindfulness is simple western feel good positive psychology. Nowhere in the Buddhist concept of Mindfulness you have “positive affirmations cheatsheets” and other things of the likes. What you do have is deep insight, hours of meditation to reach certain deeper conclusions about one’s self, a self-working in balance with everyday living that is often heartbreaking and mind-crushing. I had two clients who actually sent me links of Positive Psychology articles, insinuating I should learn more about it, and I did question whether my teachings are not positive enough or if the persons reached some kind of threshold in which their insights couldn’t go deeper at that moment. I found it interesting in this however, knowing them, that they much easier tolerate violence and aggression than self-inquiry. They considered the self-inquiry the violence they were subjected to, instead of the constant inflamation of provocations in media, social media, movies and TV series.
And this is what my question about tolerance wants to reach: What do we tolerate, and what do we consider intolerable?
I’m very much against current models of Positive Psychology, for the same reason I’m very much against current Western models of Mindfulness: it creates the internal la-la-land of positive apathy, and it’s breeding ground for idiot compassion.
The mere lack of insight and self-inquiry is what promotes reactivity. The fact that we deny we have certain things within our boundaries that some would deem unnacceptable but we don’t, agrees with the notion that it is in fact much more violent to look within ourselves than it is to accept the external violence we are subjected to in every day life.
So systemic reactivity comes from this issue. Military personnel nowadays don’t even know anymore to what they are fighting for, and a lot of them revolt against the oppressive system they thought they were fighting for. Secret agencies are pawns in a plot against the people and themselves, by being the fall-out of whoever gives them orders. Whoever is in office is often the fall-out of who’s behind the lobbies pulling the strings. And each and everyone of these persons reacts according to what they know and how they know to react, much more often than not, tolerating their own intolerable and with apathy facing the actual issues that need facing. But we deem them as enemies of a fight we are actually fighting together: survival.
In fact, the more we react, the more of the just will fall, and the more we are apathetic to the real issues, the more we are forced to tolerate what we deem intolerable. What we need in fact is appropriate response. And what is that? Can we even imagine it happening? What kind of solutions can we present that are not only inclusive of all the population, and also kind and compassionate to the issues that plague humanity?
Can we pause for enough time to find a solution which is not reactive?
I’ll stop here and leave these questions for pondering.
Peace, love and some rest. Better days ahead.