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Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Reactivity?

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Reactivity

Experiencing that You are Not Reacting and that You are Not

When you really see that the nature of the personality is reactivity, a cyclic reactivity, when you see the whole cycle of ego activity based on hope, desire and rejection, it is possible that the activity will cease, and peace and stillness will arise. Then it is possible to understand what Being is. When this happens, you’ll discover that even if there is action and activity, where you come from is peace and stillness. This peace and stillness that you are coming from is exactly what your ego resists most of all. In fact, the first experience of peace is what the ego is trying to cover up with its reactivity. It is a kind of death experience, because you experience nothing there, just complete, absolute silence and blackness. That is peace, complete peace. There is no action, no reaction, no nothing. Just complete silence, complete peace. You might actually be engaged in some activity, but where you are coming from, your fundamental attitude, is that there is no reaction to anything, no rejection of anything. If you allow this to happen, then it is possible to know what Being is. Essentially, this experience of peace, of death, is that you are not reacting, and that you are not. There is precisely the feeling of “I am not.” I am not, and so there is no reactivity. The full experience of Being is a little beyond this, is more a feeling that “I am,” but I am not reacting. Ultimately, we are Being. The process of the Work includes the goal, because from the beginning, in the process of understanding yourself, the perspective is toward Being, not toward doing some activity. If you are reacting in the work on yourself, you are perpetuating the personality. But if you understand from the beginning that this reaction and activity of the personality is itself a non-Being, is a resistance against Being, then perhaps your orientation will be more influenced by Being. So the goal is in you from the beginning.

Going to the Sharp Edge Between Being and Reactivity

Now, Being is very mysterious. To truly understand the action of the personality, to understand that it is a cyclic movement of reactivity, you must know Being. It is the contrast with Being that reveals the core reactivity. That’s why I have said that you need to go to the sharp edge between reactivity and Being, and when they are next to each other in your experience, you can say, “Yes, this is reaction.” Before you know Being, before you are Being, you are too identified with the personality to get a perspective on it. When you are Being, you are aware of its stillness and objectivity and can see in contrast the feverish activity of the contracted personality. You see that there’s nothing intrinsically there. There’s a contraction, there is movement, pushing and pulling, and there is frustration. The complete perception of the hopelessness of the situation, the realization that your feverish attempts to alter yourself are futile, can bring about the cessation of the activity. The cessation is sometimes called death, which is peace. Then it is possible for us to know Being. So what is Being? Being is alive and still at the same time. In Being, you know that you are alive, that you are, but there is no movement; there is just complete stillness. There is stillness through and through. Even though the deepest level of the body is full of movement—the blood circulation and movement within all the cells and even the movement of the atoms—Being is deeper than all of that. Being has no agitation whatsoever.

Reactivity Annihilates Presence

Reactivity has been understood by many of the wisdom traditions as antithetical to our true nature, and many inner techniques for transformation are one way or another to disengage from reactivity. We see here that the problem with reactivity is that it annihilates presence. It means the soul leaves her ground, and it further implies the absence of inner trust necessary for abiding in one's true nature. It reflects the position that if one continues to be present one will suffer more. Therefore, besides trying to control the environment, the soul learns to control her inner experience. More precisely, the soul experiences the inadequacy of holding as an inner disruption, an undesirable and threatening difficulty. She reacts to these with an array of inner postures and strategies that end up dissociating her even more from her nature.

Reactivity Makes Our World Dead

Another factor that makes our world dead is our reactivity. We not only have old concepts of who we are and what the world is, we also have reactions and opinions about them that make our concepts even more rigid, opaque, and out of touch with the actual present alive world. Whenever something happens in your experience, you have to categorize it as happy or unhappy, as bringing pain or pleasure, as good or bad. You could have a favorite star, like Sirius, and every time you look up at night you look up and admire that star; you don’t see the other stars or the sky, just this special star that brings you pleasure. Or you could believe that there are malevolent aliens in the sky and be afraid to ever look up and see it. You see the people you know as good or as bad, because you are seeing your idea of them. And your reaction makes it that much harder to see what is real in them; it solidifies your concept of them. We see not what is there, but our concepts of what is there. You look outside, and you see trees, you don’t see reality. You look up, and you see stars, you don’t see reality. And what is “star”? Something in your mind. Not only do you perceive through the filters of your concepts, you have associations to those concepts. “Star” makes you feel a certain way. The word “mommy” makes you feel another way. The word “pet” brings different associations and reactions. These associations and reactions are all determined by your past. Basically your parents teach you how to respond to things. You learn what to be afraid of and what to be happy about. When someone is born, everyone tells you that’s a time to celebrate. If someone dies, everyone is supposed to be sad. So death is a concept—you don’t know what it is—but you’re already programmed how to respond to it. Birth is something we conceptualize, and your reaction to it is already determined. If you feel a certain sensation, it has already been given a name. Not only has it been given a name, you’ve been told how to react to it. So your world is set. Your life is set. Who you are is set. It’s all the content of your mind.

The Individual's Limited Patterns of Emotion and Behavior

It is in the nature of mind to be in a constant state of reactivity; and here we do not simply mean what is implied in the usual sense of the word. We mean something more fundamental: that the individual is always reacting with certain very limited patterns of emotion and behavior which reflect the self-image he is identifying with, and that this self-image is itself a reaction, in two senses: first, that the specific self-image that is operating is automatically elicited by the situation, and second, that the self-image is itself a construction made up of reactions to past events from early childhood. This self-image is thus never a spontaneous response or a free choice, but is always a compulsive reaction.

The Personality is Constructed of a Continuous Cyclic Movement of Reactivity

Whenever we are reacting to or rejecting anything, we are identifying with that core of frustration. Of course, this core of cyclic reactivity and frustration is covered with something softer, so that usually we don’t feel it. We dull it with all kinds of beliefs and ideas. So we see that the personality is constructed of a continuous cyclic movement of reactivity. It continuously produces more of itself, more frustration and suffering. Understanding this enables us to understand the processes of disidentification, letting go, surrender, and acceptance. Now, what can we say disidentification is? If disidentification means that I’m seeing a certain state which I want to pull away from, who is it who pulls away? It can only be the reactive core rejecting the state or experience. So attempting to disidentify in this way can only increase the frustration rather than alleviate it. So how can you really surrender? How can you truly disidentify? Since the core of frustration is attachment, contraction, and dissatisfaction, you cannot do something which could be called disidentification. The personality can only perpetuate itself. The moment you try to do something, you’re turning a wheel of action and reaction which is what we call the wheel of samsara. Perhaps to you surrender means that you will engage in an activity. But the activity of the personality is a rejection, which is ultimately hope and desire, leading to frustration. How can that be surrender?

Your Reaction Depends on Your Knowledge

So your reaction depends on your knowledge. Suppose a person feels a stabbing pain or hurt in the chest, in the heart. He’s never felt anything like this sensation before. He becomes alarmed: “Oh, I might be having a heart attack.” Or maybe he’ll be less alarmed but still want to get rid of the pain, so he says, “Oh, I’m hurting, I’m in pain, give me some Valium.” But a person with a different perspective, a different knowledge, might react differently when he feels the hurt: “I must be feeling hurt, oh good, let me feel it, let me explore it.” And if he feels the hurt for a while, he will begin to feel soft and gentle and warm inside himself. This person had the knowledge that it isn’t helpful to turn away from his pain, that when he is willing to feel the pain some kindness toward himself will arise. It seems clear that we should do our utmost to gain the necessary knowledge for living our lives—to have what we want, to do what is actually good, to live a happy life, to really find out the meaning of life, to actually solve the riddle. To accomplish these things we clearly need the correct knowledge. Otherwise we do things believing them to be what they are not, such as marrying someone believing we love them, when we really married them because they reminded us of our mother.

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