Respond or React: Are you a marathon runner or a sprinter?
Last month I was interviewed by Ed Tyll on his nationally syndicated show: The Ed Tyll Show, Starcom Radio Network on the recent events of NFL players choosing to kneel as a sign of protest. We had a lively and stimulating discussion on the topic, “In a World of Never Ending Tension: Author Abby Juan Says to Look Inward”.
Afterwards, I realized that the below excerpt from my book, How Me Found I: Mastering the Art of Pivoting Gracefully Through Life could help shed some light on why people are behaving the way they are. I believe that while we can’t control the headlines that we see in the news every day, we can definitely lower our anxiety, gain self control, and empower ourselves by looking internally before responding externally so that we can consciously contribute to a calmer society.
Survival of the Fittest
(“How Me Found I“, pgs 137-142)
When you are in survival mode, your world shrinks to where your focus is solely on your immediate needs. The surface aspects of the events themselves determine whether you will be able to survive or not. This level of observation creates a quick perusal attitude toward life, designed to make quick and immediate decisions. When you try to move beyond survival, a new attitude and new techniques for observation and analysis become necessary to replace the old habits of discernment. Without that ability to learn, be curious, and explore, you are relegated to simply observing what can be seen—the obvious—that which covers the surface. It’s the pattern on the tablecloth and not the table underneath.
Most people are here: skilled in the ability to create judgment quickly without examination of the full set of circumstances surrounding the situation. Consequently, people’s lives are very small in comparison to what they potentially could be. When your judgment is hasty, you’re hasty in application. Therefore, your behavior becomes conditioned to be reactive—a sprinter and not a marathon runner. A sprinter uses quick bursts of energy and gets exhausted quickly, so he or she can cover only short distances at top speed. A marathon runner, in contrast, uses a different method of covering ground. Longer distances and larger spaces require pacing—the ability to move through terrain without running out of energy—so pacing (the ability to determine the right amount of energy to expend over the right amount of time to cover the most ground) is fundamental to reaching the finish line. This requires the discerning ability to respond to the environment with great patience and not to rush to judgment but to wait and see what else comes up, reserving your response until more information is uncovered. The long-term gratification of a marathon runner versus the short-term gratification of the sprinter is a key distinction between the two methods of movement. It is the energetic principle of conservation.
Reaction is designed to be quick, immediate, and lightning fast. You don’t require much input from the environment in order to move because the assumption is that this is known terrain. Therefore, the needed behavior is already predetermined. It requires tremendous training to move at such great speed because the analysis and thought process required must be at an almost instinctual level to create such automation. To react is to act from memory: “re-act.”
In contrast, the Latin root meaning of “to respond” is to answer. Therefore, input from the environment is necessary to determine a course of action. The more data derived from the environment, the better your answer. This activity elicits a nonreactive stance because patience, or the ability to utilize time adequately, is required in order to receive maximum input of data for taking the right action. Once you receive sufficient input, combined with memory and new experience, you can derive the appropriate behavior for the situation. This method has curiosity and adaptation elements built into the process flow. In other words, the method of responsiveness is how we evolve and grow through dialogue with our environment. It is the difference between a sentient being and an instinctual being—once again, call and response.
Sadly, our society has reduced those incredible qualities of discernment down to snap judgments that govern our behavior and perceptions of immediate situations. The majority of the thinking processes have collapsed down to opinions created by others. You have streamlined your own process of analysis in order to reduce response time into “real time.” You are now conditioned to be reactive in order to manage time in a more productive manner. Again, the value is in the doing. Conversations with your environment, dialogues with Nature, and interactions with others have been reduced to texting, automation, technology, and, by extension, insulated isolation. You are now separated from the interactive flow of life. You have left the chat room—the dialogue continues, but you’re no longer there to engage and participate.
So how do we fix this situation?
Our answer is to try to reverse the process and create a space to be still and reestablish dialogue again, but this time with our inner selves. The first activity of communication is to learn how to communicate with ourselves. The second activity is to make time, since we have eliminated time in our rush to real-time responsiveness. The third activity, by inference, is to find the time to reestablish the communications link between our environment and ourselves, with our inner selves as the translator, using time appropriately. This is having a true dialogue, as it was described in our original owner’s manual.
The statement, “Stop and smell the roses,” carries tremendous meaning if we break down the statement into its phases of activity. To stop is to slow down, to be still enough to see the actual rose—to change direction in order to come close enough so you can touch the rose gently and carefully, and bring yourself near enough to see it up close without pricking your fingers from its thorns. To bring it into your personal intimate space, right up to your nostrils, so you can inhale its essence, and join its energy and yours by invitation through breath. To allow the beauty of its existence to be at one with yours, enough so that the grounding experience with Nature brings you back to a center of balance, where once again you are a part of the whole, and the whole is within and about you.
When you transition back to the original algorithm of responding, rather than reacting, the entire decision-making process that determines your behavior, moves to a higher executive functioning level of discernment. You start to move toward having more control over your life. You become able to distinguish more the quality of your choices, and prioritization becomes self-evident and easy because the choices available contain more potentiality and further movement within them. You are now looking beneath the surface of the situation and are able to go several levels deeper. The closer you are to the causal foundation of the actual situation, the more you can see how the situation constructed itself; therefore, you are able to deconstruct, dismantle, and rebuild the situation from several perspectives. You are able, through the art of discernment, to see a multifaceted view of the situation. Like a diamondteer evaluating a rough diamond’s potential gem value through his eye loop, when you are able to rotate mentally the situation around and about until you can see its best face, then it reveals, out of what initially seemed to be a terrible situation happening to you, its gift of a lesson. The proverbial “silver lining in a dark cloud” helps you along your path of growth and evolution. The situation is then able to reveal its purpose for coming into your life; we, as students, look for that great teacher all the time. Why is this happening to me, and why am I here?
To respond is to engage in dialogue. Once you answer with your behavior, then wait—the situation naturally adapts to your answer and gives you feedback. You then adjust and project back your updated desires, and the Universe responds with another adaptation. Eventually, you get what you have always wanted, but better than what you thought you could have. This dynamic and interactive loop of communication is how you manifest and create your world of reality. It is the call-and-response experiential method of the Universe—the “observer/observee” principle of quantum physics. It is the sentient consciousness of evolutional growth. As a friend of mine always says, “If I sat in a room for thirty years, I still couldn’t have been able to come up with this. It always turns out so much better than I could have ever imagined or thought up all on my own.”
Do you see what is happening here?
The only constant principle that is understood and accepted by all humans is change. Why? Because nothing is static, nothing stays the same. Everything is always in a state of movement, transformation, evolution, regression, advancement, adaptation, interaction, and engagement. All these descriptors have movement inherent within them. Therefore, to excel in life, we must learn how to move, not stand still. Standing still is not the same as being still. I use standing still as a reference to being immobile. Immobility is the inability to move, to not move, to be in inertia. This resistance is what creates the dynamics of growth interaction between our true nature, as communicated through our own hearts, and our conditioned personality, as governed by our egos.
During our early years, if our egos were trained to ensure that safety and security is paramount, because the environment outside is unsafe, then our egos, as the tactical implementer of our lives, will ensure that we become great sprinters, capable of short bursts of energy to run out, forage quickly, and return immediately to our safe, protected, insulated, entrenched comfort zones. This is being part of the “why change if it ain’t broken” establishment (the old guard, the Matrix) that ensures that we will establish a pattern of attempted efforts and self-sabotage to maintain a tight equilibrium of balance. We will experience continued, attempted, unfulfilled desires and stressful frustration as we settle into a mundane life of mediocrity.
However, if your ego was trained differently—if it was encouraged and supported by Love—it will be confident and secure enough to understand that safety is within, ensuring that you become a marathon runner capable of running long distances. Movement then becomes its mantra, allowing for great accomplishments to become milestones along your long path of exploration.
This is Nature’s way of ensuring survival of the fittest, by giving us the gift of responsiveness, thereby allowing you to live your life to its fullest.