Spirit Grooves Blogs

Published on June 18, 2014

Reactions, we all have them. When they are voluntary, reasonable, and measured, they are called 'responses," but most of the time they are knee-jerk and pretty much involuntary – reactions. We react almost all of the time, often at levels we are not conscious of.

If these micro-reactions were harmless, that would be one thing, but they are not. They are fierce karma producers and they are on duty 24x7. We can more-or-less much blame our reactions on our Self, you know, that selfish construct of our likes and dislikes that we create and can't help but support. Yet laying blame does not put any real distance on it. The self is our very own shadow.

It helps to take a close look at our reactions as a first step towards deconstructing and disarming them. And reactions harm us in at least two ways. First, their constant flinching blurs the clarity of our mind and gradually digs a deep track or groove in the mindstream, every last reaction does this. Reactions endlessly coat and obscure our consciousness and that coating builds up into a brittle veneer that we can't see through.

And second, to make things worse, every reaction creates karma that ripens over time and comes back to haunt us and exact its piece of flesh.

It is perhaps easier to understand the first effect I mentioned, the one about reactions, the idea that they gradually dig a groove in our mind and continue to underscore it ad infinitum. It is no wonder that over time the clarity of our mind is obscured by this incremental accumulation.

The second effect, the creation of karma, might require a little more explanation. Our self reacts to those things we like and dislike constantly. We program ourselves that way through experience, training, society, and what-not. Our minds usually are a hotbed of reactions going off every second and often in bursts. We have little to no control over them.

For example, we react with annoyance, fear, or discomfort (and perhaps all three) when someone we don't like walks or who has offended us into the room. While we may not allow ourselves to have a reaction visible to others, our internal reactions are visible to us if we will just look. Not only have we reacted to this person somewhere in the past, but that memory is stirred every time we meet, with the result that we are digging the track of that reaction ever deeper. That is karma.

And it is not just people that we react to, but also to colors, smells, touch, etc. and not only things our senses can provide, but an endless stream of quips, comments, critiques, complaints, and thoughts, thoughts, thoughts about each issue. At times our mind becomes a hurricane of reactions – a windstorm of winces, each one bearing damage now and for the future, again: it's all karma.

Our every prejudice, reinforced through repetition, becomes karma that will ripen over time and require us, sooner or later, to come to terms with it down to the finest detail. We are at the accumulating end of karma, perhaps not the big blows of karma like killing and stealing, but rather the incessant beating of the mind by the onslaught of our own reactions. It never stops. Is it no wonder that the Buddha points out karma as a main component of our suffering.

I used to tell myself, "What suffering? I don't see any suffering," but over time I have come to acknowledge that my own self and its attachments (indoctrinated by me) are an enormous obscuration that I cannot see through clearly. And the layers of obscuration not only get thicker; each reaction will demand its own day of reckoning sooner or later. Karma ripens.

So, if we are not aware of our own reactions, it is not because they are not there. They are there if we will just look. The question I ask is: what can I do about my reactions?

Obviously the first step is to become aware that we are having reactions. Witness them from moment to moment. It is not that hard to do. Once we are aware of a reaction, we can learn to neutralize it until we no longer react to it, almost a Pavlovian remedy. In time we replace reactions with the ability to respond appropriately to whatever caused the initial reaction – responsibility.

It is not an elaborate procedure: recognize a reaction, look at it, acknowledge that it is your reaction and no one else's, drop it, and rest in the space it leaves. If we do this consistently, we gradually wear down the karmic residue and remove the groove that particular reaction and subject involves until we no longer react, but respond. And we stop accumulating karma for that particular issue.

Of course, in the beginning we must start in the midst of a swarm of reactions and just work away. But we soon get the hang of it and can cycle through the procedure instantly, like a mental bug zapper.

Technically, this is a form of a dharma practice called Tong-Len, often translated as "Taking and Sending." We take in our reaction, own it, and send back our best energy to sooth and heal the gap between ourselves and what we are reacting to outside what we consider our self. Tong-Len is an endless removing of the difference between our self and others, whatever we label as "not-us."

This kind of Tong-Len practice, which is easy to do, gradually removes the obscurations we accrue through judgments, biases, and other reactions. Simultaneously we stop accumulating karma and our obscurations become more and more transparent. We can begin to see through them and into the nature of the mind itself.

This is the kind of dharma practice that can be done all day long, one that has huge rewards, and it is relatively easy to do at that. And we don't have to be Buddhist to do this practice.

For more details, please see my free book on tong-Len here:


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