October 17 – Reflex or Response – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening
I did not survive to be untouched.
The emotional patterns of our lives are very strong. They often come into being because we’ve needed them to survive. But sooner or later, we all arrive at moments where the very thing that has saved us is killing us, keeping us from truly living. Being invisible once kept us from being hurt, but now we are vanishing. Or listening once kept us in relation, but now we are drowning in our unheard cries. Or avoiding conflict once kept us out of the line of fire, but now we are thirsting for contact that is real.
Early in my life, I learned to protect myself, and this meant that I became very good at catching things. In fact, I never went anywhere without my catcher’s mitt. No matter what came at me, nothing could surprise me. And while this saved me from the unpredictable assaults of my family, and even helped me in my odyssey through cancer, it eventually had a life of its own. Everything—birds, women, friends, truth—was intercepted by the quick reflex of my mitt. Eventually, nothing got through, and the very thing that helped me survive was now keeping me from being touched. The softness and wonder of the world was vanishing from my life.
But I did not survive to live at a distance from things, and so I began the long and painful process of putting my mitt down, of regaining choice about when and how to protect myself. I began to realize that letting life in was a deeper way to survive.
In doing this work, I began to experience an amazingly thin lining of breath, which I believe is in us all. Beneath it lives our impulse of heart, our true and genuine response to all that we encounter. Above it lives the reflex of our emotional survival, the quick twitch of our patterning.
It seems our ability to be authentic and free can’t touch us until we breathe our way below the twitch of our patterning. Often, this requires outlasting the anxiety of needing to catch or fix what comes our way, so we can truly respond from the centre of our being.
There is, after all, a difference between helping someone because if you don’t you will lose their love or some sense of your own image as a caring person, and helping someone because your impulse of heart moves you to their aid.
We are, each of us, in a repeatable war between defending ourselves from hurts that happened long ago and opening in innocence, again and again, to the unexpected touch of life.