Part of a series:
- Presence (Part 1): What are Reactive Patterns?
- Presence (Part 2): Dissolving Reactive Patterns With Attention
- Presence (Part 3): Uprooting Reactive Patterns Through Insight
- Presence (Part 4): What is Presence?
What frees you from reactive patterns? Attention—that is, your own awareness, directed toward your patterns. Attention dissolves patterns like heat melts ice—like love heals hurt. This process takes time; how much time varies with the pattern and the person. Some patterns dissolve almost instantly as soon as you recognize them. Others may take days, weeks, years, or lifetimes of attention to dissolve.
In order to dissolve a pattern, your attention must be strong enough that you can observe the pattern—when it’s triggered—without allowing yourself to get sucked into it. You must keep your attention grounded in the present. One way to do this is to maintain awareness of sensory experiences (like body sensations). If you don’t stay grounded in the present—if you get lost in reactive thinking—the pattern will be reinforced (not dissolved).
This is not an intellectual process. Your intellect can help you recognize a pattern, but what frees you from it is feeling the feelings that arise when the pattern is triggered—without acting on them, identifying with them, or allowing your attention to collapse into them. This is always an uncomfortable process. The reason we usually react to these feelings is that we find them uncomfortable and we want to avoid feeling them. Allowing ourselves to feel them (without reacting) is exactly the opposite of what we are used to doing.
As you allow yourself to feel your feelings when a pattern is triggered, sooner or later you may be surprised to notice a shift. Your feelings haven’t changed, but suddenly you can feel them without resistance—you can feel them and be at peace at the same time. Your relationship to the pattern has changed; it no longer has the same grip on you as it did before. The pattern has begun to dissolve, and the energy that was locked up in it is starting to be released. You find you have more energy available for living and experiencing life, and you’re a bit more free than you were before.
Practices for Dissolving Reactive Patterns
There are many practices that can help you dissolve your patterns. You can do “calm abiding” meditation—a process for gradually strengthening your attention. (This is the form of meditation that is familiar to many of us; it starts with learning to rest your attention on the sensations of breathing.) You can work on your patterns as a daily “purification” practice: recalling situations that tend to trigger you, and working with the feelings that arise. You can journal; journaling temporarily weakens and slows the operation of patterns, and it provides an external mirror of what’s going on internally. Reactivity affects all aspects of our being, including the body; so practices that work directly with the body and its energy—like massage, yoga, and Qigong—can be helpful.
There are many ways to enlist the support of others, drawing on the strength of their presence and attention to help you dissolve your patterns. Getting support from others can help you be present to reactive feelings you might not have the capacity to work with on your own. For instance, you can get empathy (or therapy) from someone else, and you can attend groups, workshops, retreats, and other gatherings focused on personal growth. A risk here is that you may encounter not only other people’s presence (which can support you in dissolving your patterns), but also their own reactivity.
What practices have you found helpful for freeing yourself from patterns, and for shifting out of triggered states?