Reaction Formation

Back in May, I attended an Enneagram retreat led by Ian Cron, author, Enneagram Jedi, songwriter, priest, and therapist. (Yeah, he’s a real bump on a log.) It’s taken me nearly a month to fully unpack it… SO good. I consider myself an Enneagram enthusiast. I’m no expert, yet I’m eager to grow that base of knowledge because I still feel, after a decade of self-study and implementation, it is the most powerful tool for self-understanding and transformation we have. Ian took around forty of us deeper into the tool over the course of two and a half days, and I’m beyond grateful for the new and powerful insight gleaned.

One of the many golden nuggets I walked away with was the above Victor Frankl quote. It kills me. I sincerely believe that most of our perceived problems would dissolve if we cultivated, or grew, that space between what life throws at us and how we respond. Let’s stop right there. Even just the word “respond” is generous. I tend to default to cruise-control living more days than not, reacting out of emotion instead of responding out of presence. Why? Because the space between the stimulus and response is so stinking small! What is not so small, however, is the old ego blaring at full-volume when I live like this. 

For example, let’s look at a scenario we can all relate to—traffic. If you live in a large-ish city like Nashville (especially in the last 2-3 years), chances are, you have been tweaked by traffic. One of my absolute biggest pet peeves is when I’m stopped at a four-way stop and instead of obeying traffic laws, people try to be sweet and “let you go” when it’s not your turn. I’m all for southern charm and hospitality, but somebody’s going to get hurt if we all play nice instead of following the basic order.

This happened the other day. A well-meaning lady in a heavy black sedan with red lipstick and statement earrings sat across from me at a four-way stop. It was her turn to go. She flashed a toothy grin my way and waved her hand for me to go. I mean come ON. I played along but rolled my eyes and may have even shrugged my shoulders very dramatically. Small space alert! I reacted out of frustration instead of responding from curiosity and openness. Ew.

I was also asleep in trans, living out of a really crappy story that read something like this, “Why are people so lame? She should see traffic laws (and life for that matter) the way I do.”  

Zero compassion. Zero patience. Bags of judgement.  

Sure, anger was at the surface. But guess what was really going on underneath that jagged reaction? The real underlying story was fear. It went something like this, “Things won’t work out unless I try to control them.”  

Do you have a particular narrative that gets you into trouble?

Here’s some good news: the thing that separates us as humans from animals is the ability to make up stories. We’ve also been given the glorious gift of imagination in order to write them well. Guess what we need in order to write good and truthful stories? We need space. Why? Because we write best out of stillness, not chaos. Also, because reactionary, fear-based living will drive us mad (and others away). 

If you and I are courageous enough to sit in that space, feel our feelings, and simply observe the moment at hand, we have stepped out of ego— the need for control—and into the freedom of essence. By essence, I’m referring to the loving, open, and authentic “true self.”

From that space, you create meaning, thought, feeling, and action that is powerful beyond belief. This is the space where you get to use your God-given gift to write really compelling stories.

This all sounds so lovely and airy-fairy, but how do we grow that space and find our freedom— our power? 

Meditation is the most effective tool I’ve found to cultivate the inner observer, or witness, we all have, yet tend to neglect. Any mindful awareness exercise or guided breathing and meditation allow us to relate to our thoughts and experiences in a softer, more open way. Most importantly, it broadens the space and cushions the fall when life throws us the inevitable curveballs.  

Yes, it feels boring, uncomfortable, and frustrating at first, but after a while, you will start to crave it. If you’d like to deepen your own practice or learn more, I’d recommend a guided meditation app such as Headspace or Calm.

We are spirit beings living in a physical world. It’s time we tend to that pure, loving part of us in order to create some distance between how we experience the world and how we respond. Your imagination is your MVP here. Break it open. Look around. Make a home.

Stay awhile.

“The opposite of home is not distance, but forgetfulness.”
- Elie Wiesel

Love & Gratitude,