One of my all-time favourite movies is The Blues Brothers, especially the unforgettable scene where the hotel in which the brothers are sleeping is blown up by Jake’s vengeful ex-fiancée.
In real life, Jake and Elwood would have died or at least been seriously injured. But in the movie, they calmly emerge from the rubble amid the delightful tinkle of tumbling bricks, still wearing their hats and sunglasses. They dust themselves down, Elwood checks his watch and says matter-of-factly, as if nothing remarkable has happened, ‘It’s almost 9 o’clock. We gotta go to work.’ And off they go, without another word.
Another great movie is Live Die Repeat (also known as Edge of Tomorrow), in which Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) calmly shoots Lt. Col. Bill Cage (Tom Cruise) each time he needs to reset, so that he can repeat the day and try again.
Can you spot the common theme here?
What’s unusual about both of these movies is the non-reactivity of the lead characters. In The Blues Brothers, it comes across as droll humour. In Live Die Repeat, it’s grim determination in the face of humanity-threatening odds.
How is this relevant to our lives now?
In our uncertain world, where, more than ever, we don’t know what the future will bring, people are tending towards one of three modes. There are those who yearn for the way things used to be. There are those who worry about what the future may bring. And there are those who adapt to living in the present, one day at a time, in as non-reactive a way as possible, taking each new development in their stride.
Guess which is most productive in the long run?
Dwelling in the past can feel very comforting, remembering how things used to be and indulging in various forms of escapism while waiting for normality to hopefully one day resume. It’s an understandable coping mechanism.
But we don’t exist in the past. We exist in the now. Yearning for the past or worrying about the future is ultimately a waste of time and energy. Deep down we all know this, but we don’t know how to make the switch to living life in the now. The answer lies in learning to become non-reactive.
It’s important to understand that being non-reactive does not mean being cold or devoid of feeling. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Emotional reactions are triggered by circumstances. Something happens and we react to it. We are much more like Pavlov’s dogs than we realize. 99% of human reactions are automatic conditioned responses.
Feelings are very different. They emerge from deep within instead of being triggered from without. They allow you to connect to another person or thing and become one with it. They open the door to a vast range of fulfilling human experiences that a reactive person can never enjoy. Only a non-reactive person can truly experience depth of feeling.
Cesar Milan, in his extraordinary work with dogs and their owners, calls this “calm-assertive energy”. When you watch him dealing with neurotic pets, he never reacts. He tunes into each dog, feels what it is feeling, and through his own calm-assertive behaviour, he helps them and their owners to change.
How can you become more non-reactive?
First, you have to want to. You have to have a genuine desire to be able to navigate through life with integrity instead of being thrown this way and that by emotional reactions to everything that comes your way. You have to be willing to give up the excitement of life’s emotional rollercoaster and the never-ending worry-loops in order to find more calm and centredness within. Some people will find this very difficult to do.
But it is well worth the quest. A life of calm non-reactivity can bring you experiences of peace and fulfilment you may never have known before, even when the world around you is in chaos. And it can open the door to levels of compassion, joy, empathy and other deep feelings that will make your life much more meaningful.
How to achieve this? Well, each person will need to find the tools that will work for them. For some it will be a path of meditation and the accompanying personal work of deconstructing emotional charges (samskaras). For others it could be Tai Chi, Hatha Yoga or any daily practice that helps to cultivate inner stillness.
To get you started, I can also recommend two books to give you deeper insights into the benefits of non-reactivity. One is a riveting science fiction novel by Samuel Sagan with the provocative title of Bleeding Sun and a recurring theme of “you react, you die”.
The other is a self-help book by the same author, titled Regression. It explains in detail the difference between emotions and feelings and why you would want to cultivate the latter, not the former.
Both books are available from Amazon or from our online store when it reopens in August 2020. Enjoy!
Copyright © Karen Kingston 2020
Personal Insight sessions with Richard
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