Reaction vs. Response; Acceptance vs. Denial
I'm back on the dedicated meditation train this week. I've been getting spotty about it in the past four months or so, and it's been showing: I get more tense, I get more emotionally volitile, I don't handle stress as well. The biggest thing I noticed, though, was the same thing that kept me off this blog lately: I hit a point where I had a lot to do, and a lot that I owed other people, and somehow that made me just... power down, go into hibernation mode. Now that I think about it, that happens a lot. In my good spots, I agree to a lot of stuff and get kind of ambitious, and then I hit a bad spot and the stuff on my list just looks overwhelming to the point where I can't do any of it at all, and I go into hiding. This time through, I had a very bad day last Friday, a full plate all weekend just with chores, and by the time I looked at my in-box on Monday I just couldn't handle anything anymore, and I spent the day putzing around online (which meant avoiding most of my usual sites, since I "owed" people things there, too). Which just made it worse, since nothing got done, and then I woke up Tuesday feeling so overwhelmed that I could barely handle going to work; I had to put in my earplugs (sensory deprivation almost always helps) and power through a bunch of stuff.
Wednesday I stayed home sick, which worked out well because I was sick. It gave me a chance to be quiet and still and empty all day, with nothing expected of me, and that was enough to re-set my mental computer; I've been slowly crawling out of the mess ever since then. I think that part of the problem might have been that I was getting ill-- that never does well for my stress levels or for my ability to concentrate-- and part might have been the lovely winter storm cycles we've been getting that have dumped about a foot and a half of snow on us in the past week, but most of the problem was the same thing it always is: that "too much! overwhelmed!" point, where I react by running away and hiding.
I know that my first reaction to anything is an automatic fight-or-flight reaction... oh, hell, who am I kidding? it's the "flight" reaction, I very rarely manage to stand up for myself. So my first reaction to stressors is to run away, avoid them, duck out, ignore them, deny their existance. I refuse to engage, and then spend a lot of energy staying well clear of them. Then, because I haven't done anything about them, they start weighing on my mind and it becomes twice as exhausting, dragging all that weight around, and I don't feel up to doing anything, and thus the weight builds up and my will-to-work goes down until I'm paralyzed and freaking out. Clearly this reaction is not working for me.
I honestly haven't figured out what's behind all of this. It could be my general fear of imperfection popping up again, or just my chronic general anxiety. It might have something to do with the tiny fear-feeling that pops up out of nowhere when I'm in the middle of a project, and I've noticed that if I don't pay attention at that moment, my automatic reaction is to go do something else instead. It's an incredibly fast reaction; I feel that twinge, and next thing I know I'm surfing the internet.
That one, at least, I have a handle on these days. I still don't know what the hell it is that sets me off, but while my reaction is to bounce off and surf the net, I'm teaching myself a response-- to stop, do a couple deep breaths, recognize that even though I don't know what's up, I'm anxious and glitchy and need to calm down, and then keep working on the same project. Which isn't to say I'm paying attention that much, but I do notice when I make a move to switch from one window to another, and that's when I stop and breathe and stay in one place instead. So instead of an automatic reaction, I do a deliberate response.
What I need is a deliberate response to the TOO MUCH TO DO feeling. I already know that what makes me feel better is to complete SOMETHING, even if it's something small-- anything off my plate is an improvement and it makes me feel more in control of the situation. Get out of denial and into motion.
That reminds me of another thing I've been pondering lately: the concept of acceptance. It is mentioned a lot in my meditation CDs and in my new-to-me copy of Full Catastrophe Living: Accept that X is happening, it says, or accept that you are who you are in this moment, or accept that someone else is doing what they're doing. Which, even in my chronically-afraid-of-confrontation state, strikes me as a very annoying thing to say. "Accept it," these days, generally means that something is how it is, and you just have to get used to it, and if you don't like it, fuck off. That didn't seem to be what the meditation stuff meant, though, because they kept saying that only after accepting something can you respond to it, whether positively or negatively.
There's a subtle distinction there, and I had to really fight it out in my head, but I finally did. They're not having acceptance mean approval, by any means. They're not saying that acceptance means the end of struggle, either; you can still fight against it and say that it is wrong. I finally sorted out that when they use the word acceptance, they're meaning it as the opposite of denial. Acceptance = admitting something exists, admitting it is happening. Accepting racism or sexism, then, would mean admitting that it is occurring, not simmering down and letting the bullshit continue. Acceptance is only a step on the way to action, not the action itself.
Therefore, response is a three-part process: acceptance of the problem, deciding on an appropriate action, and then going forward with that action. Reaction, on the other hand, skips over the first two parts and goes straight to an unthinking action. I can react to something while being in denial about it, or while avoiding it, as I've proven to dramatic effect all week. I can't respond to it, though, without accepting what's going on.
Example: Phone rings at work. Old reaction (this is really what I used to do, up until about a year ago): flinch away from the thought of more demands upon me, and promptly ignore the ringing phone unless it's my boss or a few other in-house people. Call goes to voicemail, and I then ignore its existance forever because I don't listen to my voicemail. New reaction: flinch away from the thought of more demands upon me, then breathe deeply twice as the phone continues to ring, then answer the fucking phone in my best customer-service voice.
I just have to expand that to the rest of my life. When I think about it, I already have in some areas: I get the mail from the mailbox and open it, instead of doing what I used to do when I was first out on my own and ignoring the mailbox for weeks at a time out of sheer dread; I pay my bills (mostly on autopay) instead of putting it off; I answer all my e-mail at work and try to clean out my virtual in-box before I leave for the day; I listen to any voicemail that gets left while I'm away from my desk and answer it. Hard-learned reactions, every one of them, and a lot of work stuff didn't get sorted out until the past six months. I'm still sort of surprised that I didn't get fired; I can only conclude that nobody really knows what I do all day.
So there's my latest breakdown of what I need to work on: acceptance. Recognize the impulse to hide from something, breathe a few times, and dive in. Answer the e-mail from my friends and relatives that I've been ducking for the past week. Pick up the pile of assorted junk in that far corner of the bedroom. Start by not adding to it anymore, maybe, and move on to slow chipping away at what's accumulated already. Move forward.
::breathes deep a few times before hitting POST::