Henri taught his painting students that the artist’s life was one long investigation of things and their reactions to them.
This is an exquisite description of the creative process. But it’s also an interesting filter for witnessing our growth in general.
Because our reactions are the barometers of our evolution. They are what define us, for better or for worse. In some moments, we sabotage ourselves by reacting in ways that do not serve our true interests. In other moments, we accept the nameable and predictable problems of human living and handle ourselves in a healthy and mindful way.
It all depends on the day.
The difference between these two examples is something called response flexibility. This is the space between reality and our reaction to it, and it’s where we either shine or shit.
Imagine coming home for the holidays. At dinner, we experience a strong emotional stimulus, like an older sister nosily bombarding us with questions we don’t know the answer to, or a parent who puts layer of disapproval over every one of our life choices.
Typically, these moments would shrink us into the adolescent version of ourselves. Perhaps a scared, vulnerable preteen who acts short and pissy and petulant with their family members.
Which brings us back to response flexibility. Instead of reacting immediately as we normally would, we could pause for a split second and choose how to react. Like noticing and naming our bodily sensations. Or taking a deep breath and changing the subject.
Frankl referred to this flexibility as the last of human freedoms. And he was right. Each step we take out of our unhealthy reactions, out of our old behaviors, is an achievement.
In fact, we might even reach a point where not only is there is no reaction, but we forget that there used to be. That’s serious growth.
If it’s true that opposite of reaction is not revolution, but creation, then our response flexibility is the greatest work of art we could ever make.
LET ME ASK YA THIS…
Are you giving yourself time to take notice of your own reactions?
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That Guy with the Nametag
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