Our Reactive Life
- " being Zen" by Ezra Bayda
We all have emotional reactions and we tend to think that this reaction is unavoidable. We seldom consider the possibility that it is a learned behavior. However, if you want to end your unnecessary suffering, it is important to recognize that such reactions are in fact learned.
As an example of how automatic our responses to situations can be, the next time you're out, what happens when you see a sign? You'll probably find that you read it instantly, without thinking about it. You'll probably also find that it's impossible to stop this from happening.
There's no denying that reading must be learned; we're not born knowing how to read. But the reaction of seeing something and automatically reading it is so fast that it seems to be an inborn characteristic See words, read words. Almost like having a pupil dilate in darkness.
Emotional Reactions are Learned
Just as our habit of automatically reading is learned, our emotional reactions are learned, too. We have an idea of how a situation should be. The actual situation is different from our expectation. We feel uneasy. Our thoughts start running, "This is not supposed to happen..." The bad feeling and the thoughts are coupled together without our realizing it.
Then we do something based on our expectation of what should have happened and the desire to get away from the bad feeling. We say something insulting, we hit, we run away, etc. We use whatever defense we've learned.
Learn a Different Behavior
We're not doomed to being stuck with our learned behaviors, though, no matter how long we've had them. Whatever is learned can be unlearned; new behaviors can take the place of old ones. The process starts with learning to watch yourself. This can take a while so please don't be discouraged as you learn. Remember that your existing habits have probably been with you for many years so it is natural that it will take some time to change them.