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The Reactive Mind and How It Holds Us Back
Let us imagine that a tone scale of emotion exists which has total happiness at the top and total misery at the bottom. This scale actually exists and can be an amazing tool to assist us towards wellness.
Serenity of Beingness, at the top of the tone scale, is a state of serene happiness and contentment. This is a spiritual state of tranquility and joy, and we can catch glimpses of it, from time to time.
Just below that the words “Action,” “Games” and “Postulates” simply means that you are able to act, and have become cause over life. I.e. you are actively involved in the game of life and want to succeed and win.
[But remember winning must not come at a negative cost to your own character or standards of morality and personal ethics! In order for you to consistently reach the higher tones, your ethical standards will need to be maintained at a high level!]
At these high level’s you are able to postulate a positive outcome or goal (i.e. construct a mental image or strategy and then make it so) and strive / drive for it, overcome obstacles in your way and make your goal a reality.
All of the upper tones (up to Serenity of Beingness) comes from the attainment of not unknown goals. This means essentially that we can achieve goals we set for ourselves and we are surviving and doing well! This gives us a wonderful feeling of contentment and success; we are winning at living. Examples include the feeling we have shortly after we have done well in an exam, after having studied hard for it. A business we have started has just concluded a big contract. Or we have just managed to play a difficult song (or musical piece) perfectly, that we have been practicing for a while. Or we have just listened to a wonderful, uplifting piece of music, seen a beautiful sunrise or sunset, been hugged suddenly by our spouse or watched our child take their first steps etc. The list is endless.
You don’t need to read too much into the tone scale, except that you should always aim to be happy and constructive in your life and should strive towards the attainment of achievable goals, rather than be overwhelmed by life and unhappy. Its really that simple.
You will also need to reject all negativity that will sap your positive intentions, as this will bring you down the tone scale! Remember that your spiritual state need not be tied to other people or your current circumstances. Believe it or not, if you are a spiritually aware person, then it is actually possible to be happy and content even if life is hard at the moment or difficult or unfair.
[As a quick aside, the Maslow’s Need’s Hierarchy, states that you need to cater for your basic needs first, before you can consider the philosophical and esoteric. I agree with this to a point, but feel that inner tone and happiness needs to be attained first and should not necessarily have to follow, or be attached to the attainment of “stuff.” One can see this as BE, DO then HAVE as opposed to want to HAVE, and then DO to have in order to BE.]
If you are down tone and angry, or frustrated or depressed, you will not be able to succeed well in life and you will be frustrated. If you are positive and happy, then achievement of your goals in life will be a easy and bring joy! It is really that simple.
Here is something else for you to think about. This extends the idea above, but with some more in depth thoughts on why it is that we tend to slip down tone. This information is offered up to you to accept or reject as you feel is right. I.e. only accept it if you can see the inherent wisdom and merit in the argument. Remember that this is a philosophical discussion and you don’t have to accept what I say if you don’t want to. And if you don’t feel like proceeding further with this section (you may already be an up tone person, or you may not really be interested (i.e. you could be at the tone of disinterest or boredom for example) or you may already have developed other coping mechanisms [religion, yoga etc.]). If so then you can ignore the rest of the discussion and just focus on continuing to BE up tone and happy, positively playing your your goals in life and making constant forward progress!
That said, let’s proceed further…
Remember that the difference between humans and animals is our ability to THINK about what we THINK! This is called analysis.
Humans essentially have two types of minds (i.e. brain activity that facilitates thinking):
1. The Analytical Mind or thinking mind. This is a part of our mind that allows us to be logical and to think over problems and find solutions to them. With the analytical mind we are able to navigate through the game of life and solve problems by finding solutions. If we are up tone, then we can do this without allowing failures (and distractions) in life to get on top of us and depress us / defeat us and side track us from our goals.
Put another way: We know that sometimes life gives us lemons, but because we are intelligent and analytical we refuse to be bitter, and also we know how to make lemonade! i.e. we are able to bounce back and can turn negatives into positives.
Know that we all fail at times in our life. These difficult times, if we are up tone, open to them and allow them, can teach us very important life lessons, and will allow us to get better at what we do and grow. Remember that in order to learn how to walk or ride a bicycle etc. we needed to fall down a few times.
2. The Reactive Mind or survival mind. This is a defensive brain activity that comes down with us from our distant past. This brain activity is a flight or fight activity. I.e. It is supposed to kick in faster than our analytical brain activity (often over-riding it) and its purpose is to save our skin if there is a sudden threat to our survival. i.e. don’t think now… RUN or FIGHT, for your life!
This reactive mind is very different from the analytical mind. It can be compared to a loyal dog that, while it loves you totally and is always there for you, it is actually really quite thick. In fact it is so thick that we could honestly say that it is as thick as a brick or even a brush!
The reactive mind can be further explained by the following example:
Imagine that you pass a hot plate on a stove. You see it is red hot. Your analytical brain, which hopefully knows a little about heat, says… beware! danger! don’t go near that!
But your reactive mind, if it has had similar experiences with burns before, like an alarm system going off in your body, will come alive and start warning you at every level in your system of the danger. Fear and adrenaline is its primary alarm, but there are many others, like anxiety, restlessness, nervousness, agitation, trepidation, concern etc.
Imagine now that you don’t see the hot plate (or possibly you have never seen a hot plate before in your life and don’t understand the danger) and you accidentally put your hand on the hot plate. Your reactive mind will kick in immediately and try to save you by activating physical responses at lightning speed to get you out of trouble. Adrenaline, nerves, pain, fear, etc. will all cause you to jump away from the hot plate and react almost without thinking (without analysis) to the threat. Hopefully before your hand is too badly burned!
Apart from getting you out of trouble, the reactive mind will also record every vivid detail of the unpleasant incident (in micro-seconds) with the sole purpose of updating its surveillance program, while also looking to implement upgraded warning systems for you (here you can think of chemical reactions in your body, which cause effects on you via your reactions and emotional tone – and in an effort to control you and your responses).
The best warning system, and this your loyal reactive mind firmly believes, is if there is danger, or something seems to be occurring that has caused you pain or danger before, then it is AWAYS BEST to avoid it and find a reason to stay far away from the threat!
OK! My loyal, yes and also thick as a brush, dog brain, is now watching over me. Cool! Is’t that a good thing? I hear you say!
Well, I don’t fully agree and will explain why, as we proceed further with this discussion.
Remember that the reactive mind is survival instinct and it overrides the relatively slower brain process of your analytical mind. Because the reactive mind has highlighted areas in life that are a threat, every time you go near these, or something similar, the reactive mind will wake up and start warning (irritating, agitating, complaining and nagging) you of the danger, if it feels that it has arisen again. But this is so cool. A permanently awake watch dog. Isn’t it? You say.
Not really, I say!
The reason can be explained by this short story.
Imagine a fish (a Salmon for example, and the Salmon can be a he or her, but for our purposes for now the Salmon is a he) is swimming up a river. While it swims lazily upstream, its mind is constantly taking in the colors, shades, water temperature, the lie of the river bed, the shape of the underwater foliage etc. It is constantly (through inputs from its senses) monitoring and recording what is happening in its immediate environment! The reactive mind, ever loyal and faithful, reports back periodically saying “all is ok, we are safe, don’t worry boss. I’m on guard!” Acknowledging this at a subconscious level, the fish proceeds with its swim upstream.
Then suddenly the Salmon is attacked by a bigger, more ferocious and very hungry Tiger fish which comes at it out of nowhere! In the sudden flurry of activity, there is frantic movement and rows of teeth are seen flashing and snapping for the Salmon. The bigger fish is hell bent on making the Salmon its dinner! The next thing the Salmon knows is that the bigger fish has clamped down on the Salmon’s tail with its jaws and is trying to kill him. PAIN! FEAR! The Salmon’s reactive mind immediately kicks in: This is much faster than the analytical mind. In fact the reactive mind overrides the analytical mind because, if it does not, the analytical mind can slow the fish’s reactions and body down. This definitely not the time for introspection and analysis, but rather the time for fight or (flight) swim away!!!
The reactive mind, in a flash of energy and communication, followed by burst of chemicals released into the system of the fish, says to the Salmon in a micro second: you can’t win, here is some adrenaline, now don’t think, let’s just GET AWAY!!! Quick!, thrash!, move!, jerk out of the jaws on your tail if you want to live! etc. and before the Salmon realizes it he managed to thrash and break free, dashing for freedom. Luckily the Salmon gets away this time to live another day. Phew that was a close call! And my tail hurts! Every vivid detail of the incident and the pain (even days after the incident – while the fish recovers) is recorded by the reactive mind, and a mental package about the attack is stored in the reactive mind of the Salmon (we can think of it as a let’s learn from this, we survived, mental recording).
Imagine that in time the Salmon recovers from its wounds.
Now imagine the Salmon a few years later and he is going up a similar river, but this river is actually over a 1000 kilometers away from the first river.
The Salmon does not know it, but at the top of the river is a wonderful clear pond where he could be very happy for the rest of his days, there are no natural predators (or fishermen with rods) and he can live safely, find lots of food and even a mate that can bring companionship and a family etc.
But the reactive mind, which still carries (in a huge store room of survival memories) a vivid memory file of the previous attack, and deep in the subconscious of the Salmon (and like it happened yesterday) this memory (with all its horrific pictures and feelings) suddenly starts to come alive! Remember that the alarm systems of the reactive mind are always fully operational. They are just waiting to kick in at any time to warn the Salmon if a similar situation happens again. I mean one river is exactly the same as another 1000 kilometers away, isn’t it?
Alarm bells are going off. For some reason the reactive mind believes that it sees water plants on the river bed that look similar to those of before and the water temperature is also almost the same. And the shape of the river bed seems similar and aren’t those shadows like before when we got attacked! The loyal dog brain starts barking: “Woof woof! Wake up master!” With just a few things similar to the time before, when the salmon narrowly escaped with its life, the reactive mind comes fully awake and pours all the horrible memories and feelings of the previous attack back into the mind and body of the Salmon. It says… Are you sure it’s safe? Be careful! Don’t go there its dangerous, and swim (run) away now! NOW! QUICKLY BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE OR ELSE YOU COULD DIE!!!
And for no logical reason whatsoever, that the Salmon fully understands, the fish experiences sudden anxiety, fear and trepidation and, without thinking further, decides to abandon the trip up the river. It turns around and swims in the opposite direction. And the Salmon loses out on the wonderful opportunities that existed higher up the river.
Because the reactive mind is very powerful (and basic in its operation) and it is excellent at overriding the logic of the analytical mind’s best intentions, and for reasons that may not be true or logical.
If you remember, I told you the reactive mind was loyal, but also really stupid, and actually as thick as a brush!
You can think of the reactive mind as a huge messy storehouse of emotions. Or a field full of hidden landmines. Or even a nest of hornets. Often, if we are feeling tired or irritable and emotional, what has happened is that something in our day, or in our thoughts, has triggered (restimulated) a stored emotion in the reactive mind and it is this that makes us emotional, tired or frustrated. We have opened the gate and walked into the field and stepped on or tripped an emotional mine and it has gone off. Or you can say you have poked a nest of hornets and they are now all flying around, angry and stinging you. You will find that after a good sleep the stirred up emotions have gone away again. The dust from the explosion has settled or the hornets have calmed down and are now settled back in their nest again. You have stopped restimulating the reactive mind and given yourself time to let its effects settle down and stop affecting you.
The truth is that we are all constantly being micro-managed and controlled, to a lesser or greater extent, by our reactive mind, and most of the time we don’t even realize that it is happening.
With our best interests at heart and with its best intentions, the reactive mind (like a loyal thick dog), works against us, and in many subtle ways, keeps tripping us up. This can become extremely debilitating if we don’t understand what is happening, how it works and the fact that it is often extremely illogical and misplaced and why this can be so very detrimental to us and frustrating to our achievement of our goals.
Here are a few examples of where the reactive mind can really undermine us. There are many examples in our life and more are being created day by day if we let our dog brain have its way. As you read this possibly you can think of times in your life when you were controlled and pulled off target by your reactive mind.
Possibly we fail a math’s test at school and we feel so terrible and useless that the reactive mind can’t help but kick in and start to try and protect us. i.e. it believes that this pain we are feeling is bad for us, and the terrible experience needs to be avoided at all costs into the future. Or we have had a very bad experience with a boyfriend or girlfriend, or have been through a tough divorce, and we have been terribly let down. This pain of failure and disappointment and heartache is so terrible that it must be avoided at all costs, our reactive mind decides. Or we tried to learn a musical instrument before, and could not do it because we were honestly attempting to do something that was, in fact, far to advanced for us and we were really not ready to handle the complexity yet and gave up in frustration.
The examples are endless.
The reactive mind is great at overriding the analytical mind and excuses (manufactured by the reactive mind), as to why the goal should not be reached, come out thick and fast. I am stupid, I can’t work with figures, my mother and father were not mathematically inclined. I was born with two left feet, I don’t have what it takes, I have ADHD, I don’t have a good memory, I am a klutz etc. And these excuses are all part of the complex mechanism the reactive mind has to keep you away from the danger it firmly believes lies in wait if we continue to proceed on this painful and stupid course of action we have decided upon.
Because of the illogical inputs we are receiving from the reactive mind, which are really not tied to life and death decisions, but are rather just from an overzealous, loyal (but often very stupid) alarm system (that is working just the way it did thousands of years ago, but is not really needed now a days, as much), we are now made its unwitting victim and keep getting tripped up by it.
To avoid failures and the feelings of emotional pain that these can bring, we suddenly find we are no longer positively involved or even interested in our math’s at school. We are now even finding every way possible to avoid paying attention in class or doing our practice which is so desperately needed to become better at math’s. We feel tired (and overwhelmed) all the time, and each time we go into the math’s class we are fidgety and cannot concentrate. We are also exhausted at home each time we open the math’s textbook so even the homework is shoddily done. You really should not be doing this, the reactive mind asserts constantly. It’s dangerous, you know! Each time we try to study we yawn and feel very fatigued and distracted, which is a well known reactive mind (physical / chemical) output to control the body, override the analytical mind, so the dog brain can get its way and get you safely out of danger. (from a math’s example… a bunch of numbers on a page… ridiculous isn’t it!)
And, as they say in the classics, things go progressively from bad to worse, because by not working steadily towards our goal, we fail more tests and a vicious cycle is now in effect and is constantly reinforcing itself each time we are side tracked from our goal. Our feelings of failure and our reactive mind stores of negative energy are getting bigger and more powerful and these will eventually drive us systematically down the tone scale, towards failure and depression (or worse), if we continue to let our dog brain (as thick as a brush) have its way.
In relationships instead of actively trying to make a new relationship work and being positive about the outcome, we (controlled by the reactive mind) are negative, trepidatious and almost willing the new chance at a relationship to fail before we start (remember that logically two people are like two rivers, and are not the same!), or instead of enthusiastically practicing the new instrument and passionately learning everything we can about it, we practice half hearted or skip opportunities to practice and we don’t make progress. Why, because the loyal (thick as a brush) reactive mind in us tells us over and over we can’t do it and should not be doing it.
Using alarms and intricate surveillance programs we are warned to stay away, avoid, be careful, this is really not cool and definitely not good for you, remember the last time you did this, have you forgotten the failure? It was very painful! The negative, avoidance signals that come to us from the reactive mind actually meddle with our analytical mind, and meddle with our positive intentions. If we let them, they will drag us down tone and can doom our positivity and constructive efforts to failure, that is, unless we see, understand and fight against the reactive mind and its illogical, negative control over, and ultimately jeopardizing our analytically constructed goals and positive (best) intentions.
The reactive mind is simply trying to protect us and does not know that it is being totally illogical and stupid.
By realizing this, being able to see how the dog brain is negatively affecting us, and by working against its effect and constantly rejecting its control and pushing ourselves constantly up tone, we can defeat the reactive mind by re-programming it with opposite positive thoughts, assertions and actions. I.e. re-train the dog! This is really easy to do and simply involves loads of positivity and an intention to keep focused on our goals, and not get side tracked, and to always strive to be and stay up tone and not to give in to old dog brain.
Within a few weeks of positive input you can fully re-program the reactive mind, and it will start to leave you alone to make the most of your life, instead of tripping you up at every turn.
Remember the secret of avoiding a trap is knowing of its existence!
You have it in your power to move up the tone scale and towards positivity and action and success in your life, if you allow YOU (via your analytical mind [not your reactive mind]) to take you there systematically and a step at a time! The choice is yours to open the gate and step into the mine field or poke the hornets nest. Don’t give in to past failures or listen to your reactive mind telling you, once again, that you should not go where you need, do what you must to achieve your goals, or try to convince you that you cannot achieve you goals, or you don’t have what it takes.
TALENT CAN BE GROWN!
JUST DO IT!
TAKE SMALL STEPS INITIALLY, AND KEEPING AT IT, A STEP AT A TIME, YOU MUST AND WILL GET THERE!
BE GENTLE ON YOURSELF. ROME WAS NOT BUILT IN A DAY.
KEEP AT IT!
IF YOU GO AT IT SYSTEMATICALLY, AND KEEP AT IT, SOON YOU WILL BE AMAZED WHAT YOU HAVE ACHIEVED.
A really cool way to get rid of negativity and reduce the effects of the reactive mind can be found in offset freequencies audio meditation which can be used over and over again, for a short period of time daily (less than a half an hour) in a hypnosis / resting environment to quickly get your reactive mind to settle down, and get you back up tone and productive.
But always remember the simple solution:
DON’T WORRY! BE HAPPY!
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