A report from the Slow Lane
Being human is hard. I don’t know about you, but I feel like I am not very good at it. I wonder if anybody is? I have developed some compassion for myself as I have realized just how hard being human is. I’m going to address one of the aspects about being human that I have had a hard time with. As I’ve aged, and gotten a lot more experience under my belt, my attitude about reactivity has changed, but I still find this facet of being human difficult.
Reactivity played a big role in my early life, which was just like the word sounds. By that I mean, that I seemed to be full of toxic radiation that would occasionally come spilling out. I seemed to be constantly triggered by things and people in my environment. Sometimes it was embarrassing, but mostly I was so caught up in righteous indignation that I rarely noticed the impact I was having on others. I hate to admit it, but I was happiest when my upset upset others. I liked sharing what mattered to me. Only now, can I see this behavior for the kind of pollution it was.
Reactivity was my immature way of showing myself. I didn’t know that then. I wasn’t trying to let anyone know me, but I was available to be seen, in all my immature glory, if anyone was paying attention. I was aflame with over-righteous self-disclosure. Like a fireworks display, I was a vivid idiot. My issues were everybody’s problem.
Reactivity was my way of saying this is an issue I haven’t got a handle on, and I am determined to make it someone else’s problem. I might have been a little more sophisticated than that sometimes, talking about projection, but I was pretty firmly into blaming others for my discomfort. I was a walking killer, armed to the teeth with a readiness to push the button that assured mutual destruction.
I’m happy to report that I am better now. I have a lot of regrets, but by and large I’m not doing that anymore. Instead I’ve learned something quite amazing. Reactivity is self-disclosing. When I get upset, that upset says more about me than it says about anyone else. I didn’t want to believe this at first. I was pretty committed to believing others were problematic, but that actually didn’t get me anywhere. It was when I began to grasp that my reactivity was exactly that — mine — that I started to get somewhere.
I’ve come to learn, by being around other aging people, that reactivity decreases. I don’t know if this is a function of age or life experience. I tend to think it is the latter. In fact I’ve come to see this, diminished reactivity, as an attribute that separates elders from merely old people. If that is true, and who am I to say, then I think it must be due to some specific kind of life experience. Maybe its my hubris, but I think some elders have taken responsibility for, and learned from, their own reactivity.
Reactivity, it turns out, is a good, but difficult path, to self-knowledge. It is revealing, and what it reveals, to my chagrin, is a pretty accurate picture of one’s present state. My reactivity, besides making me more naked than I would like to be, reveals me to me. It tells me, if I am paying attention, valuable things about myself.
Reactivity is one doorway in. I have learned that I can trust it. I have an unerring capacity to know when I am running across something I can’t, or won’t, handle. I get reactive when I sense hardship, especially relationship hardship. Now I know that is a signal I want to pay attention to, one that can offer me a glimpse at my own development. Now, I still don’t like seeing myself, especially as reactive, but I prefer that, to not seeing myself accurately, and carrying around a false image of myself. With a more accurate picture I have a better idea about how hard being human is for me.
I am somewhat loathe to know how difficult it is to be human. I prefer hopefulness, even if it is hopefulness for the wrong thing. All too often I like the thing that will not free me, to be more alive, more human or more grateful. Give me a Mystery I can handle, or at least delude myself about. The thing is, I know how hard it is, to hold myself up against a Mystery that keeps me guessing, and stumbling along more blind than seeing.
Oddly, now that I’m interested in how I react, I seem to react less. I’m aging, getting to know myself better. I’m getting more comfortable with being blind, with being subject to a Mystery that seems to live as much in me as in the world.
Being human now is still hard, and I still have a hard time with it, but now I know and treat myself less reactively. Being human now means being awake more of the time. I like myself for doing it. Something hard, like being human, is changing my attitude. I’m getting less reactive and becoming more genuinely compassionate. Reactivity, which has diminished as I’ve grown, has been a faithful friend mirroring back to me, when I would look, an accurate picture of just how human I am.