In every situation we get a split second to choose: either we can react on autopilot with unawareness or respond from a place of wisdom and love. Asking myself these three questions when facing difficult situations helps me react less and respond with love more.
Questions 1 & 2
(This is part Three of a 3-article series.) By asking Question 1- (What is (really) happening?)and Question 2- (Why am I reacting this way?), we learned how helpful it can be to pause for a moment and address underlying assumptions. Question our initial reactions. Get curious about what else could be going on and why we might be reacting to it the way that we are.
The first two questions are not as important to answer as they are to ask. It’s in the asking–in the checking in with ourselves–that we are actually doing the work.
Honoring Our Feelings
When we sit and observe our internal reactions, when we pause and notice before auto-reacting, we are NOT try to change what’s happening inside.
We’re noticing our feelings, they are not wrong, they are connecting us to our heart and to our truth. It’s better to just notice and honor whatever comes up. This pause is NOT about trying to stifle or push anything down.
But here’s the magic. Even though we are not trying to make negative feelings and reactions go away, by simply noticing them the amazing thing is they actually start to shrink! Their power over us fades!
We don’t have to fix or deny our feelings, just observe them.
Through this deeper knowing and understanding of ourselves we can get to the root of it all, we’ll start to inadvertently act more loving and be less reactive.
It’s important to remember that through all of this we are not rejecting how we feel, we’re not trying to stop our internal reaction. We can observe and allow our internal reactions but also make choices about what we want our external reactions to be.
My Flow Chart of “Good” and “Evil”
When I was in my twenties, I sat down and wrote down all the good things and all the bad things in the world, all the positive and all the negative. I just wanted to get it all out where I could see it.
Then I started to draw little lines between everything to show relationships. Yes, this might seem strange but admittedly, I’m a little bit strange and damned proud of it!
I just had to get to the bottom of everything and know the truth. Like, where does everything come from? And what is the difference between good and evil? Why does evil even exist? Why we have bad reactions sometimes and do we do mean things? We have these different choices every day but what motivates us choose what we do?
I set out to figure it all out.
Fear Vs. Love
Greed seemed to be coming from fear–fear of not having enough–and also from vanity, which ultimately comes from the fear of not being seen as special or worthy of praise.
Lust for power can also be traced back to fear–the fear of not being in control, of not having enough wealth, status, etc.
Lying, cheating and stealing…those ultimately could be traced back to fear too. Sheesh, are we a fearful species or what?
As far as I could see, all the negativity in our world seemed to find it’s way back to fear as the source.
As opposed to all the good–compassion, forgiveness, generosity, volunteering, helping–that all seemed to come from Love.
Love is it! Just love.
Love is the answer.
In the years that followed I would go on to hear about and read the teachings of many others who echoed this same exact result from my flow chart, repeating the message to me over and over: it is Love vs. Fear not Love vs. Hate.
Love is what we were born with. fear is what we learned here.Marianne Williamson
What do I Mean by “Love?”
First, we have to get clear on what I mean when I say “love” and toss out the notion that I am talking about romantic love here.
I am not.
The love I am referring to is deeper and broader than this. If individual, romantic love is a bucket, this love is the entire combination of all the oceans in the world. And we can draw from this giant ocean of love when in intimate relationships, but I’m not talking about intimate love.
What I’m talking about is the love from my flow chart–love that is Source, the force that’s behind everything. What gives us all the good, all the positive things.
And very importantly, LOVE is the place we come from when we choose awareness, compassion, and connection in each and every moment.
There are two basic motivating forces: Fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement and acceptance.John Lennon
One thing I’ve discovered in my practice is fear is like a vampire and our awareness is the light of the sun.
When we shine that spotlight on fear–when we pay attention to it, face it, sit and feel all our real feelings all the way through–our fear starts to go away all by itself. It loses power over us.
By not trying to banish fear, and just looking at it fully, fear ends up banishing itself.
Fear knocked at the door. Love answered and no one was there.Wayne Dyer
Reaction Vs. Response
What is the difference between reacting and responding? Reacting is thoughtless, it’s instantaneous and often crude.
Responding means we make a choice. It comes after awareness and is not coming from autopilot-mode but from our mindful, compassionate self.
Responding with love means that we’re choosing love, choosing to be aware. We are choosing kindness for ourselves and for others.
Love Gives Back
However we choose to act–or react-towards others, we also do that to ourselves. As living beings, we are all connected and interconnected pieces of a greater whole. This means that whatever we do to others we also do to ourselves.
When we give love to others we give it to ourselves too. And in my experience, it comes back even bigger and better. Love amplifies itself!
Think about it: if you are impatient with others do you expect them to be patient with you? If you think “Oh, I don’t care, that’s their problem not mine.” Is that the kind of world you want to create? Do you want others to treat you the same way?
We get to choose our reality and each time that we choose love, each time we choose to respond to others with love, we are choosing a better world, one human connection at a time.
Responding with love is not just directed outward but inward as well. The love you give to others is also directed towards yourself.
In fact, that should be our first consideration in each situation: how can we show love to others by first showing love to ourselves?
Don’t let compassion for others compromise the love you give to yourself. If something requires that of you, then it is not love. Sacrificing yourself is not showing love.
Love and Boundaries
Our interactions with one another reflect a dance between love and fear.Ram Dass
As much as I hate to say this, there are toxic people in this world. Those who will take advantage of kind-hearted, loving people who try to see the best in others and choose love over fear.
But we do not have to give up on having loving responses in order to protect ourselves from toxic, manipulative abusers. This is where boundaries come in place. Firm boundaries.
We must get really clear on what type of behavior and what kind of treatment we will accept from others and then promise ourselves that we won’t compromise on that. Ever.
I want to say that again, even more emphatically: Choosing to respond with love does not mean that you must sacrifice any part of yourself. It does not mean allowing someone to control you or guilt you or force their way into your life.
By choosing love you are not striving to be a nice person who’s always going around pleasing others. No, you are fiercely choosing love and awareness because that is the kind of world you want to live in.
Sometimes holding a firm boundary and saying “no” is the most loving response to a specific situation. Allowing someone to violate your boundaries is not love.
The choice that frees or imprisons us is the choice of love or fear. Love liberates. Fear imprisons.Gary Zukav
And so we come back to our question: How can I respond with love? How can we choose to come from a place of love not fear?
Anytime I’m faced with a choice of reacting or responding I pause and ask myself the three questions.
If I sense that I’m about to make a choice from a place of fear, I stop and don’t do anything else until I’m certain that my choice comes from love.
In the end, no matter what my answers to the first two questions were, the most important thing is to find out what would the most loving response be and then aim to do that.
Not because it’s expected or required of us. Not because we want to be good, nice people who are seen as loving or acceptable. We get to choose to act from love because it’s the greatest, most powerful force in the world.
Love is our superpower and it’s time we started wielding it.
by Sarah Caton