I’ve been thinking about a phenomenon in our inner growth journey — something that shows up occasionally, or perhaps frequently, in the challenges we meet. I’ve come to think of it as shock-absorption, as in the suspension on a car, or a bed. And it started with some reflections upon reactivity.
Everyone is reactive, to a larger or lesser extent, outwardly or mostly inwardly. So, say we get exposed to various things, such as being snapped at by a passing stranger on the bus or in a department store. We might snap back, as a knee-jerk reaction, or maybe we are not that externalised in our reactivity, but inwardly, something tenses up and we argue with this seeming idiot for fifteen minutes before we can let it go. Or something similar. Something reacts, wants to throw something back, if only energetically and in only in our mind. We tense up energetically, as it were, so our surface gets hard and things bounce off of us onto the person, onto someone else, or even onto ourselves if we internalise it (which is where the analogy doesn’t really hold up any more, but never mind, I’m sure you get it).
Sore spot, strong reactivity
And this bouncing effect happens because whatever came at us hit a sore spot. Maybe the spot in question is that we already thought we did a crappy job of something, and then we got criticised for exactly that from the outside. But the spot might just as likely be something entirely unrelated, such as a general increase in stress that day which just makes us get triggered by less. So the reactive patterns might be triggered by random, unrelated negativity. We might have our “favourites” — that is, we probably don’t favour them of course, but some patterns might be more common to us than others. (Want to explore patterns? Check out the Crash Course on Patterns!)
What happens when we start engaging in activities that we hope will lead to inner growth, if we really do grow, is firstly that we start seeing this dynamic in action. As per usual, it tends to start with us noticing after the fact. In the heat of the moment or in the actual exchange, our actions and reactions might seem entirely relevant and reasonable, but afterwards, looking back, we realise that we actually reacted from a pattern, or disproportionally strongly. Then, we might realise that only a small part of our feelings and responses in the situation where actually to with the actual situation at hand, while most of them was old baggage that was triggered in the moment. And then eventually, we notice it in real-time, while it happens.
As always, there’s this exceedingly frustrating stretch where we are fully aware of reactivity playing out but still helpless to stop it. But eventually, we can start owning the reactivity for what it is, and see that, to quote a dear friend, “I’m the only one here”. It’s not that, out there — but rather, what I need to be looking closer at is what happens within me. And this, as we know, can be a tad (or wildly) uncomfortable. It’s much easier to deploy the absolutist, hard surface that has things bounce back at whoever they came from, or even internalises them and make them “our problem”; anything is better (or so the ego will have us believe) than to actually approach our inner “ouch”.
Starting to own the bounce
But when I start having the choice — when I can choose to not do that bouncy-offy thing — I become a bit like the thick, semi-soft mat that we had in gym class at school. You could be bouncing a ball on the floor, and it bounced fine — but then if you went over and tried to bounce it of that mat, and, well, that just didn’t work. The soft density of the mat absorbed all the bounce out of the ball’s momentum, and so the ball didn’t jump back up to meet your hand again. Like that. Like that absorbing layer. That is what starts happening.
So when we start owning this process, it’s like if someone throws something at us, instead of smashing it right back as a knee-jerk reaction (whether we do this in out outer reality or just within), we rather “absorb the shock”, hold whatever was thrown in our hands for a while and look at what is triggered within us.
This might look like when you were a kid and they told you to count to ten and not take the bait or whatever analogies they tried to have us reflect before reacting. But as a kid, at least if I go to myself, I had none of this absorbing quality, so the only thing happening within any counting or reflection was a massive effort to control myself (with varying success). Nobody told me what was supposed to happen during the counting, or the deep breath, or the turning the other cheek, or whatever the prescription was. All those lame self-control effort tips might very well originally stem from this idea of shock absorption, but I’m, not sure that those who told me about them had that understanding or experience.
What we absorb, we also need to dissolve
So, if we receive these instructions without the understanding the principle of shock absorption, we easily hear it as, “don’t react, swallow your reaction, suppress whatever surfaces within you.” But that doesn’t help anyone. Or, well, obviously, it might help in the moment if what we were otherwise going to do had been really destructive. But it doesn’t help us change the pattern; it doesn’t neutralise the aggressive or negative charge being thrown back and forth. So long as we don’t absorb and dissolve this negativity, it’s going to either get passed along, or eat away at ourselves, or both.
But if I can absorb and dissolve the energy — this negativity that is being thrown about between people and possibly even from one generation to the next — instead of maintaining it, that changes something. And not just for me, but for everyone. This is when I say, energetically: OK, I’m going to take it upon myself to neutralise this charge, within me. Then the charge can be truly neutralised, and there’s nothing left to throw around or let fester in forgotten nooks and crannies within. Nor is there a need for it to be, as the whole dynamic is neutralised. Of course, others (or, for that matter, we) can then generate new charges from whatever happens in the future — but what I did still means I’m not contributing to the accumulation of that particular parcel of negativity or energetic reactivity that was being passed around. That’s one piece of negativity — of ammo, of charge, of load, of potential or actual trauma — removed from the world.
So, it’s not a question of turning off your reactivity, “rising above”, or just ignoring things. Sure, if they truly don’t poke something within you, you might. But when something does hit or leave a spot of soreness for me, what is needed is meeting it and sitting with it; listening to my own impulses and emotions and thoughts, without judgement. When I do this, eventually, having dissolved the passed-along negativity, I might find there’s still something left that I want to address. If the trigger wasn’t a sneer from a stressed-out customer in a store or a randomer on social media, but, say, my partner my friend — then, there might still be the need to clear something up. But now, I can address this in a much more productive way, as I’m only addressing what’s actually relevant here and now, and not the whole load of old reactivity.
I can only dissolve my own reactivity —
but also, only I can do that
If someone else energetically attacks me, throws something at me, and this triggers reactivity in me — then I can work with that. I can’t dissolve reactivity that belongs to someone else. (However, though, when I do it for myself, miracles have been known to happen — especially if it all plays out within a close personal relationship such as with a spouse, family member, or close friend.) Likewise, I won’t ever go into reactivity only on account of someone else already being there. There has to be a place within me where it can attach, as it were. If there’s nothing within me to be triggered, or if my shock absorbing qualities are in place, I won’t feel upset. Then, any negativity thrown at me reaches a dead end, fizzles, and dies. If on the other hand I do react, I have work to do. It’s that simple. At times, someone might throw a ball of negativity at you with a lot of accusatory energy — but if there’s nothing within you that gets triggered, you’ll just absorb the energy, and let the ball fall to the ground. Sure, you can pick it up and sit with it — but there’s really nothing for you to work with, as none of it is your ball. Perhaps that other person were just having a bad day.
From the above, it’s easy to conclude that reacting is wrong or bad. It’s not. It’s a path — neither right nor wrong; it just is. However if we believe it’s wrong, and especially if your reaction is mild and barely there, it’s easy to dismiss it. But those milder reactions can actually be the perfect thing to happen. Maybe someone else receiving that same insult or accusation would have bounced it right along, with more anger or whatever other poison attached to it. So this kind of situation offers two bonuses for you: help dissolve a piece of free-floating pain in our world, and to boot, you have the opportunity to go deeper into something that is not that painful or exhausting, but which might still dissolve something bigger within you, too. So don’t dismiss the minor reactivity bursts: in a way, those offer the most bang for the buck, with regard to therapeutic processing! 😉
We don’t stop feeling stuff
Also, just because you might have done your inner work for a while, it doesn’t mean you never get angry, or upset, or afraid. Let’s say someone randomly approaches someone I love and starts attacking them — of course I’ll want to spring to their defence, and perhaps angrily so. You’re allowed to get angry (or have whatever completely appropriate emotional response). But that in itself doesn’t mean you are throwing negativity onto the person.
When it’s more of classic reactivity, though, what good shock absorption does for us is that after sitting with something, we might just find the whole upset is gone. There is no negativity left — it just dissolved. In those cases, it was all reactivity and none of it was relevant in the here and now. And other times, something might still be there, needing to be sorted out. But whichever is the case, it all works so much more smoothly if I first dissolve what does not belong.
Also, and most of all, this dissolving, or the shock absorption, massively reduces the risk of the same thing triggering equal reactivity the next time something I encounter a similar energy. So whenever you do get triggered, it’s actually life’s way of giving you a freebie session for inner growth 😉❤️.