Dealing with Reactivity

August 7, 2013


What is the fundamental aim of practice?

The fundamental aim of Buddhist practice is not belief; it’s enlightenment, the awakening that takes place when illusion has been overcome. It may sound simple, but it’s probably the most difficult thing of all to achieve. It isn’t some kind of magical reward that someone can give you or that a strong belief will enable you to acquire. The true path to awakening is genuine discernment; it’s the very opposite of belief.  (Trinlay Tulku Rinpoche, “The Seeds of Life”)

Note that belief constricts and discernment liberates.  Discernment is taking a fresh look each time.

Dealing with Reactivity 

What is reactivity?   Suffering in response to what life hands us.

Continued reactivity is kept alive by making judgments often characterized by using “If only” and/or “should”, endless commentary, and making decisions on the basis of commentary and judgments.

How does reactivity occur?

An energetic state arises in the mind triggered by an experience (sensation, thought, perception, memory).

We make contact with it

We have a pleasant, unpleasant or neutral feeling about it.  If other than neutral, there is the potential for craving (for more or less of it) which can lead to clinging.

In craving or clinging, we become aware of the self (“I” want this; “I” don’t want this”

How do we deal with reactivity?

Recognize the reaction.

Be mindful of it

Know where it is coming from – the mind or the body.

Know the role of consciousness.  We are not conscious of it all the time.  Just like all phenomena, consciousness is impermanent and selfless.

Inquire (non-judgmentally) if we are intensifying our reaction by:

Making judgments

Making commentary

Making decisions


On an index card, write down an issue to which you are currently reacting.  Throughout the week, see if you can spot when the reactivity around this issue arises.   Note how often you are conscious of it.  Note if reactivity is impermanent, unsatisfactory and selfless.   In a non-judgmental way, note if you are making judgments, commentary or decisions based in the reactivity.  Finally, note at the end of the week, if the reactivity around this issue has gotten more, less, or stayed the same.