In this episode, I delve deeper into how meditation acts as a massive pause button for the cycle of habitual reactivity. I’ll explore beliefs, thoughts, emotions, feelings, actions, and consequences, discussing how they influence our lives and the lives of others. We’ll look at how we can cultivate skillful habits through meditation or mindfulness. By taking a pause from our habitual ways of living, we can achieve powerful self-reflection and lasting change.
We also examine the two primary types of meditation – fixed attention and open awareness – and why it’s essential to practice both to create the Middle Way.
So, take a break from your busy life and give this episode a listen! Let me explain how hitting the pause button in the cycle of reactivity can lead to a more balanced life. Make sure to stay tuned for my upcoming online course, where I’ll share specific techniques for both types of meditation.
Hello. It’s good to be back. It’s been a while. A quick life update. I’ve been working on a new course. I know I mentioned this in the podcast, in past episodes and possibly a new book. And to be honest, I’ve been quite busy with that and other aspects of life and the various hats that I wear. And at times I’ve felt a little bit overwhelmed with the amount of things I’m trying to do at this particular stage in my life.
I also recently came across the notion of building a second brain. There’s a book called Building a Second Brain. And it’s it’s written by Tiago Forte. For those of you who are into productivity or trying to manage the massive amounts of information that we encounter in our day-to-day lives it’s a really neat book that has helped me to feel less overwhelmed by the amount of information that.
I have to digest that’s coming at me every day. The book proposes a system to help capture and organize all the information that we come across. And I’ve been putting this into practice now for several weeks, and I’m starting to feel optimistic. That I’ll be able to be better and more organized in the future with regard to all the various projects and hats that I wear.
And specifically with the podcast, I’ve been determined for some time to be more organized with how I do the podcast. And in the past, my format has been, I’ll record a podcast episode. If and when a thought comes to me and I feel inspired to talk about it. And the truth is, when you are overwhelmed with too many projects and too many things going on, it’s pretty rare to feel inspired to sit down and explore, a deep topic that requires a lot of thinking and pondering.
And that’s probably been at the heart of why I haven’t recorded a podcast in a while. But in the last few weeks, I decided I wanted to approach this. In a new way rather than waiting till I’m inspired and then doing a podcast episode, I’m trying to plan ahead and I have a list already of about 20 podcast episodes that I want to talk about, and I’m going to organize my thoughts and have it all pre-planned and then I can sit down and talk about it that way, and I think it will be less of a cognitive load on my mind.
And it’ll be much easier for me to get back into sync with trying to do podcasts more, regular, whether it be every other week, I think is my new goal for now. And maybe reaching the point where I could do it weekly, like I had decided I wanted to do when I originally started all of this.
But anyway, that’s just a quick life update and why you haven’t heard from me in a while. But I am excited to get back into all of this in the near future. Now in this episode, I wanna talk about meditation, and specifically how it can be thought of as a giant pause button. The practice of pausing and what is it that we pause from the cycle of habitual reactivity.
So first, let’s just explore this notion of the cycle of habitual reactivity. I view this as the cycle of what’s always going on from the moment that we’re awake. To the moment that we’re asleep, and I guess while we’re sleeping, it’s also happening, but we’re unconscious of it. Thoughts are produced, dreams are generated.
All of that’s happening in a way, in the cycle of habitual reactivity. But I’m of course more interested in talking about what’s happening when we’re awake. So our journey begins with understanding the correlation between our beliefs. Thoughts, feelings, actions, and the consequences of our actions. And I think of this summarized this infinite cycle as the cycle of habitual reactivity.
And the cycle looks like this. We have beliefs that influence perceptions that lead to thoughts. Thoughts influence our emotions that affect our feelings, our feelings influence decisions that lead to actions that we take and the actions that we take shape our behaviors and have consequences and results.
The consequences of our actions, produce experiences that in turn shape our beliefs, and then the cycle goes on. It goes on and on and on and on. So let’s start with looking at beliefs. Although there is no technic, there’s technically no starting point in the cycle, right? You could jump in at any point in the cycle and analyze that specific thing that’s going on.
But we’re gonna start with examining our beliefs and views. Our beliefs and views shape how we perceive ourselves, how we perceive others, and how we perceive the world around us, our experiences and our upbringing, the culture that we inherit, the personal values and influences that we inherit from our family.
These all influence our beliefs, so these are collectively the experiences that shape our beliefs. Now the thing to know with beliefs is that beliefs can be empowering or limiting. They can be harmful or helpful, skillful or unskillful. So for example, if I have the belief that bunny rabbits are bad anytime I’m outside and I see a bunny rabbit, it’s going to shape my emotions and feelings.
I’m going to be scared. Oh no, there’s a rabbit. And then I run from it. So now it’s influencing my actions, right? So there’s just a, an idea. But the core understanding here is that our beliefs are the foundation for how we perceive ourselves and others and reality. So now let’s jump into the next one, because.
Our beliefs influence how we perceive reality. That gives rise to thoughts. So our thoughts are the ideas, opinions, judgments, and other mental events that arise in the mind. Some thoughts happen automatically. Others happen intentionally. I can decide what to think about, but thoughts are also something that occurs to me.
They’ll arise spontaneously, or they could be put in your mind by someone else. For example, if I were to say, don’t think of a pink elephant, now you’re thinking of a pink elephant. Even though you had no intention of visualizing in your mind this idea of a pink elephant. That’s just the nature of how thoughts work and thoughts can be rational.
They can be irrational like beliefs, they can also be empowering or they can be limiting. They can be harmful, they can be helpful, they can be skillful, and they can be unskillful. The important thing is to notice our thoughts because our thoughts influence our emotions, which in turn affect our feelings.
So let’s talk about feelings for a moment. Feelings and emotions are similar, but I’m not referring to the same thing. I like to keep these separate. And the reason is because I think of emotions as the sensations in the body while feelings are generated from the thoughts we have about those emotions.
Emotions are often intense and short-lived, and feelings can be longer lasting. Feelings are generally. Categorized as pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. And in the Buddhist tradition, you encounter this notion as feeling tones, and the idea is that you have a feeling tone about the emotions that you’re experiencing.
For example, if I’m experiencing the emotion of anger, there’s a feeling tone associated to that. I may feel, anger as an unpleasant experience. I may feel happiness as a pleasant experience, and there may be other emotional states that are just neutral. The understanding here is that understanding our feelings is crucial because they influence our decisions and our actions.
So now let’s talk about actions for a moment. Actions are the tangible expression of our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. They include what we do. But they also include what we don’t do. Our actions can be intentional or unintentional, and they can have positive or negative consequences. Now, actions are very important to understand because our actions affect our behaviors, and they have far-reaching consequences.
I like to think of my actions or inactions, what I do and what I don’t do as ripples in water. Like the moment you touch that water, it creates ripples, and those ripples go out, right? There’s no bringing them back. Everything that we do or that we don’t do has a similar effect in our lives and the lives of others, and in the overall intricate web of reality.
There, there are ripples. There’s a ripple effect. So it’s important to understand that there’s no way for you to not be involved in the ripple effect of the fabric of reality, whether that be how it affects your life or your family’s life, or your society, community, whatever it is, right? Whatever you’re doing or not doing is constantly creating ripples, and that I think is very important to understand.
So those ripples are like consequences. So the consequences are the inherited results of our actions. And again, like ripples in water, they spread far and wide and they can have a profound impact on our lives and on the lives of others. So understanding the consequences of our actions is important because they produce the experiences that happen to ourselves and to others that ultimately shape beliefs.
So, and then the cycle starts over, right? I think this is really important to understand. We’re always participating in this cycle. This never-ending cycle of habitual reactivity, but we can learn to cultivate greater inner peace by breaking free from habitual reactivity and thought patterns. So think of it like this.
Habits shape our thoughts and emotions resulting in predictable behavior patterns without. Awareness, the ability to be aware. These habits can become deeply entrenched in our minds, leading to either skillful or unskillful outcomes. But by practicing meditation or mindfulness practice, we can be, we can begin to disrupt these patterns and we can create more skillful patterns or more skillful habits.
Whenever a thought pops up it might only stick around for a second before it moves on, or we can find ourselves getting hooked to that thought almost like a fish gets hooked on a line and then suddenly there we are stuck dwelling on that thought. Another way to visualize this is to think of the groove or the rut of a tire that’s been driven over and over on the same spot.
Or, or think of a trail, right? A, a path that leads up into the forest or up into the mountains. The more that path is walked on, the more easy it is to stay on that path because it becomes very well defined and it becomes deeper. And also the more difficult it becomes to get out of that path, because that’s the defined path that you’re on.
The more you’ve traveled over that path the more natural that is, and it becomes the path of least resistance. So you’re less likely to walk outside of that path. But here’s the thing, it may not be the most skillful path. But we’re so used to it or it seems so natural to stay on the path that it becomes our habitual way of being.
Well, that’s how our thoughts and emotions are. The more we think something or the more habituated we become to specific emotions that we experience, the more natural it is to remain that way. It becomes like the, the rut or the, or the deep groove in our way of being, and we could call this our, becomes our propensity.
For example, if, if it’s normal for me to have the I, I get bothered when I see something that be, if I don’t do anything about that over time, that becomes my habitual way of being, my propensity would be the, the propensity of being bothered by things that would feel normal and it would feel natural for me.
And then it becomes more difficult to not be bothered by things because that’s what I’m habituated to. That’s how I’m habituated. Yeah. It’s fascinating how thoughts and emotions work that way, like a worn down path. On the mountain side though, they become deeply ingrained in us and we continue to follow them without fully realizing that we’re on that path now, but in the same way that we can choose to step off of the path when we’re walking on a path and we can forge a new one.
We can also break free from our habituated thought patterns and we can create new ones. With each new step, we gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and we can learn to cultivate inner peace. Now, it’s not always easy, but we can step off the path and create a new one, perhaps a more skillful path toward greater inner peace, and we can do so with practice and with patience.
And this is where meditation comes into the whole equation. I like to think of meditation as the pause button in that habitual cycle of reactivity. In our day-to-day lives, we encounter situations that are beyond our control, where our usual habitual methods and our propensities end up hindering or failing us.
It’s like we come to a point on the path where there’s a puddle of water, or let’s say a big pu, a big puddle of mud. Our habitual tendencies would make us want to keep. Stepping right on that path, cuz that’s what wa that’s what our habit is. And now we’re walking in the mud or now we’re walking in the water.
But if we weren’t so bound by our habits, maybe we could pause to consider, hey, what if I should step over or step around this puddle? Learning to pause is the first step in cultivating greater inner peace. Now, I do wanna say here real quick, that reactivity, or especially habitual reactivity it’s not something we can fully stop, but it is something that we can pause from time to time.
Pausing can occur at any point during the cycle of habitual reactivity, and it’s these pauses. They could last for seconds, they could last for hours, or they could even alter and affect entire chapters of our lives. Now, most of you know that outside of talking about Buddhism and doing the podcast I practice paragliding, specifically powered paragliding.
And I teach, I teach people how to fly. Now think about flight, right? If you wanna learn to fly like I do paragliding, that’s a really fun thing that I get to do. And from time to time I go and I fly, and my flight might last an hour, two hours, three hours. I think my longest paragliding flight was uh, just over five hours.
Ridge soaring on the coast. But what I wanna get at is never have I taken off with the thought of, now I’m going to stay in the air and never come back down. Like the whole point of what makes the flight enjoyable is it’s, it’s a break from my habitual way of living In my normal day-to-day life, I’m not flying, I’m doing all the other non flight activities.
I’m a dad and a husband, and I work and I. I have to drive and I deal with all the normal day-to-day life things. But then I get to take a pause from time to time, and I get to go fly. But that’s always limited in the scope of time. I’m gonna go fly for an hour, I’m gonna go, I, I’ve gone to fly for 10 minutes and then land and say, okay, that wasn’t the most skillful thing to do right now.
You know, the, the weather’s not right or whatever. And then I’m done and I got my, I, I enjoyed my time of flying for that day or for that week. I want you to think of mindfulness practice in a similar way. I think it’s easy to get caught up in this way of thinking that when we encounter meditation or mindfulness, we think I want to live my life mindfully.
In other words, I want to never deal with anything in that habitual cycle. The, the cycle of habitual reactivity. But that’s just not how it works. And the same way that that’s not how flying works. You don’t take off and never come back again. You enjoy flying and then you’re done and then you don’t fly.
And most of the time I’m not flying. But there was a time in my life when I never flew at all, and then there was a stage in my life when I incorporated flight into it. And now that’s something that brings me joy. It brings me a deep sense of satisfaction and peace when I get to go fly for a little bit.
I like to visualize my mindfulness practice in in the same way. It’s something I do from time to time, and when I do it, it brings joy and greater peace to the other aspects of my life, and I think that’s how meditation should be. I think taking a moment to pause can be a powerful way to observe and to absorb.
The unfolding experience of just being alive. We can even pause mid-thought and observe without judgment. Oh look, this is what’s arising. This is the thought that I’m having. And that gives us the ability to look and see the bigger picture. Now, going back to the metaphor of the path that gives us the ability to say, is this, first of all, is this the right path that I’m on?
Is this the most skillful path for me to be on right now? Is this the most skillful way to handle this thought or emotion I’m experiencing right now? It’s by pausing that we learn to become more habitual with the ability to pause and create space between that stimulus and response, here’s what’s happening.
Here’s how I’m reacting. Or responding to what’s what’s happening. And ultimately, that gives us the ability to act or respond more thoughtfully and more skillfully. Now, again, I do wanna insert here as a side note that reactivity is sometimes a good thing. And there are certain situations where pausing is not appropriate.
For example, if you’re standing out on the road in harm’s way, And a car’s coming. You don’t need to pause and think about whether or not you should move out of the, out of the way. You’re gonna jump out of the way. And from an evolutionary perspective, that’s what we’ve survived to do as a species. We’ve survived precisely because we are habitually reactive.
When our ancestors heard a wrestling sound in the bushes, they ran, they, and that’s how they avoided being eaten by a lion. However, in our modern times, it’s not always wise to be continually, habitually reactive and, and, oh, here’s this, uh, rustling in the bushes. So I run away and in my running I run into a barbed wire fence.
Like, you know, there’s a balance that has to happen. We are habitually reactive. Yes. We’re never going to not be habitually reactive. Just as I mentioned at the start of this. You’re always going to have beliefs, and those beliefs are always going to influence your thoughts. And those thoughts are always going to influence your decisions and actions and your actions are always going to have consequences.
And the consequences of of your actions are always going to be shaping new experiences that in turn shape beliefs and, and there’s no way to fully break from that. But from time to time it can be especially helpful to pause. Examples of this would be times where you’re feeling emotionally charged or emotionally charged situations like conflicts that you’re having with others, especially when you’re experiencing intense feelings, feelings of anxiety or anger or frustration instead of reacting impulsively during those moments.
It would be very beneficial to be able to take a step back, to take a deep breath and to observe the experience as it’s unfolding without judgment, without getting caught up like the fish in the hook, you know, on the, on the, on the line. And this can help us gain perspective and develop a more skillful approach to what action we’re going to take next.
So think of meditation as the pause button for the cycle of habitual reactivity. And I want to emphasize again, it’s a pause button. It’s not a stop button. You don’t hit stop and there it’s over. You hit pause and for however long that pause goes, it all starts back up and you’re back in the cycle of habitual reactivity.
That’s what it is to be alive. So from the perspective of meditation being the pause button, When a lot of people encounter Buddhism or concepts from Buddhism for the first time or, or mindfulness or meditation, I think there’s this notion of, why should I meditate? What benefit does it have for me?
Well, th if you think of it like this as a pause button, the more skilled you become at hitting pause from time to time, the more skillful you are at living your life. And that’s why when you, when you study meditation and you approach this, at least from the Buddhist perspective, you realize there are two primary types of meditation, and the first type focuses on fixed attention.
And the second type focuses on keeping an open awareness. And both play an important role in this pause. You see with fixed attention meditation, this involves focusing on a single object. These are the meditative techniques like focusing on your breath or repeating a mantra. The goal of that style of meditation is to keep your attention fixed on that object, and notice when your mind wanders and then bring your attention back.
So it teaches us to focus and to pay attention to our experience. So this is what I would call the practice of learning to zoom in. Now, an example that’s brought up in, in Buddhism with this style of meditation is the example of walking into a shed and the light is dim in that shed, and you look down and you see, uh, what looks like a coiled snake.
Now, the next series of events that will unfold, All have to do with your perception, which in this case is an erroneous perception of reality because you think there’s a coiled snake. Think of how you’re gonna act, what the next action’s going to be, all based on the belief that that’s a snake.
When in reality if you looked at it long enough, just looked at it a little bit closer and a little bit longer, you’d realize, oh, that’s a coiled hose, not a snake. That’s the practice of fixed attention. It’s being able to. Look at something long enough and have the ability to focus so that I can say, oh, I’m not going to react this way because that’s not what I thought it was.
So that whole first style of meditation affixed attention is built around that premise that too often our fo our focus is robbed from us by other things. And our inability to focus and pay attention leads to unskillful choices. For example, the, the coiled mistaking the coiled hose for a snake. Now the second form of meditative techniques, open awareness.
This involves being aware of your surroundings and everything that’s happening. Without focusing on one specific thing in particular, this type of meditation is often used to develop a sense of mindfulness and to remain present in the moment. This teaches us to notice what else is going on around us, and this helps us to be aware of things as they truly are.
So this is the art of learning to zoom out. So you have these two meditative techniques that. Are pretty much opposite techniques, right? On one, I’m learning to focus and pay very close attention and zoom in and on the other one I’m learning to maintain a greater open awareness to everything else that’s going on, not just the one thing.
Both of ’em have their merits and both of them have benefits. So you want to be skilled at both cuz you know, you, you encounter this topic in Buddhism, the notion of the middle way. You want to be good at both. Sometimes the right thing to do is hone in and zoom in. Sometimes the right thing to do is, Hey, zoom out.
Look at the bigger picture. And the example that’s that’s brought up sometimes with the second form of meditation is the notion of the non toothache that Thich Nhat Han talks about. You know, if I’m really good at focusing in on one thing, I may, I, I may not be good at zooming out from time to time to notice what are the other things.
So, for example, the non toothache, right? If it, it probably didn’t occur to you that you are experiencing right now a non toothache, but if you practice open awareness, You’re allowing the mind to be completely open to all the experiences happening. Yes. I may notice, hey, I’m stressed about this one thing that’s happening at work right now, but also I’m noticing that I’m not experiencing a, a toothache, and that awareness of the non toothache can give rise to a greater sense of inner peace and gratitude because I’m glad that right now I’m not experiencing the non toothache or I’m not experiencing.
The, the current emotional state of the loss of a loved one or whatever the thing is, like, we’re always experiencing a lot of things, but we’re also always experiencing a whole lot of things that we’re not experiencing. And that’s kind of what, what happens with open awareness. Both techniques are very, can be very beneficial to us in our lives, and both of them have profound effects on.
The overall experience that we have of, of being alive. And I’ve talked about various techniques within each of those two frameworks and past episodes, but I’ll, I’ll probably address those. Well, I know I’m going to address them much more closely in this online course I’m about to release. That goes into greater detail with specific practices under each of those two methods.
All right, so for now, the invitation from this podcast episode is to be aware of the various aspects of your own cycle of habitual reactivity, and to try from time to time. To begin the practice of inserting a pause, and it can be a very short pause. Take a pause for five seconds, 10 seconds in your day, and notice anything within the, the cycle of habitual reactivity.
Whether it be your examining a belief or looking at your thoughts or examining what feelings you’re experiencing at this moment. Observing what actions am I taking right now, or. Usually this one’s easier to do. What did I, what action did I just take? And then observing the consequences of our actions.
You can look at any of those from time to time and just examine them for a moment and see how they all correlate to each other. I think that’s a really powerful practice. But that’s all I have for today’s episode. Thank you for taking the time to listen. Take care. Have a great week. Until next time.