Under reacting makes for a great spiritual practice because it helps control one’s temper and reminds a person that they are not number one, nor do they need to be number one. Anyone can react to anything, but to hold back and choose to under react, that takes courage and self-discipline.
When we overreact, it comes with a host of unspoken beliefs: The world should go my way. I am more deserving. I can be in control. I am right. You are wrong. You matter less than me. You should do it my way. All of these beliefs are false beliefs. Yet when we react mindlessly or overreact, we act as if they carry the weight of truthfulness.
Under reacting requires self-control. To achieve this self-control, we can mentally remind ourselves, “I am under reacting.” We take a deep breath and think about what kind of person we want to be. Do we want to barrel down the highway angrily, labeling others as incompetent? Do we want to carry that kind of toxicity and put that kind of energy into how we exist on this planet? What a difference our commute would have, if we set aside our beliefs and said, I am going to drive behind this person and work on myself; I for this period of time choose to under react. Now instead of flipping the bird or cursing, or driving aggressively, we observe our self and our surroundings. How is our drive and our morning different because we drove mindfully?
We can underreact with children. Instead of getting into power struggles, can we learn a better way to interact? Instead of yelling and screaming, could we use the power of praise to get children to do what we ask? Sometimes parents can make everything have the same level of importance, and they end up reacting strongly to everything. Ask yourself, do I want a good relationship with my children? Will overreacting get the result I am seeking? Is a reaction even necessary?
It is easy to spank and threaten because these require no self-control on the part of the parent. It is much more difficult to figure out what will work with each child. One may respond to praise, another may respond to choices, another to incentives. Instead of using one tool from your parental tool box, why not learn as many techniques as you can?
Why not practice under reacting to things that are little, so your children can notice the change when something is big? If everything results in a spanking or a yelling fit, your child will soon conclude that you are unreasonable and will do their own thing because even at a small age, children can figure out your response makes no sense. If you judiciously under react you will teach them how to navigate life successfully. Children learn by doing and be seeing. If all you do is habitually overreact, how will they learn self-efficacy?
Here are some ways to practice under reacting. When you are driving, decide to follow someone for three minutes who is driving under the speed limit. Observe your thoughts and feelings. Distract yourself by recalling something pleasant. Notice that three minutes have passed. Are you closer to your destination? Is your blood pressure low? Are you smiling?
When your children don’t listen right away can you pause, and praise them the minute they take one step in the direction you asked? Does the thirty seconds you waited really affect the outcome or were you previously just exercising control over them because you could? If previously you would grab them and yell and spank, how do you feel for having waited a few seconds? Which kind of parent do you want to be?
At the end of a relationship, have you ever had a difficult time letting go? Have you tried everything and still feel like you will never be free of the bond between you and the other person? If so, I want you to meditate on the following image.
Whether your relationship slowly died from disease, or was swiftly cut short, once the relationship ends, you have work to do. Let’s call it “stump removal.” Let us use the literal to highlight the figurative.
This week I had a four-year-old tree cut down. The stump was hardly three inches in diameter but I wanted to get it out of there, so it couldn’t grow back or the roots continue to cause damage.
At first the digging was easy. Tiny bundles of roots were easy to break up. They were close to the surface and gave me encouragement to think I could succeed in getting the stump out. But as I dug deeper, thicker roots began to appear. Some of them I could break through with my shovel, but others were too thick.
As the thicker roots arrived in view, I needed to widen the hole in order to get to where they were and clearly see what it was I was that I needed to do. Soon, I needed to fetch other tools. I grabbed a saw, some pruning clippers, and a strong piece of wood to use as a lever.
I broke out in a deep sweat. I had to use a garden trowel, and get on my hands and knees to dig. I couldn’t help but think of how many roots of various sizes there were and how deep they had dug in a few short years. I was tempted to fill the hole back in and let the stump remain, but I knew I would feel best if I completed the job.
I dug as much out as I could the first day. I returned the next day and the next. Literally I had to work through the root system from all angles. I sawed. I pried so hard that I wrecked my shovel. I used leverage to loosen the stump, and I was nearing my goal, but I could still see that a few large roots were anchoring the stump in place. I thought about tying a rope to the stump and my truck in order to rip the stump loose, but I chose to continue my work by hand. I felt that me using a short cut might make a different problem appear. There was something satisfying about doing the necessary work.
Nearly every time I thought I had the stump loose, I discovered a thicker and deeper root. At last, the end was in sight. I used my pruning clippers to tear apart the last of the difficult roots. Once I broke through that, there were two small roots left to clip, and the stump came out. I felt joy at my success, and when I stepped back I was amazed how the stump was tiny and the hole was large.
The only thing left to do was fill the hole back in. Before I knew it, the hole was gone, and the ground looked smooth. If a visitor passed by, they might not notice the spot at all. But I would remember where the tree had been and why it had to go. Stepping back farther, I saw the whole of my yard and I marveled at how open and free it now was.
While I completed my task, I thought about people I have loved and lost, and I began to understand how deep roots can get in only a few years. Rather that beating myself up for the times I struggled to let go, I began to understand that letting go is a process of freeing oneself. Compassion is the way to love yourself as you go through the process of uprooting and breaking connections. It’s hard work, and may require using all the tools at your disposal. It may take a while, but with work and the passage of time, you will complete the job.