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Stay Grounded in a Reactive Moment

The most important thing you can do in a reactive moment is get just a little bit bigger than whatever is happening.  Often this means simply naming what you are experiencing, by saying something to yourself like, "I feel reactive."  The tricky part is staying big.  Reactivity is like a tidal wave trying to sweep you away from yourself.  It's important to have ready some way to anchor yourself in that bigger perspective.  If you have ever encountered an anchor for a boat, you know that a physical anchor has some serious heft and is designed to really sink into and hold in the earth below.  Your emotional anchor needs to be just as strong.

A strong emotional anchor has at least some of the following qualities:

  • It carries strong positive emotional weight

  • It is something that you have practiced so often that it comes up on its own

  • It is something that is connected to a deep sense of truth for you

  • It is something that brings you into connection with something greater (Dharma, Love, God, Allah, etc.)

  • It is something that you can engage anywhere at any time

  • It is something that you can easily give your full attention to while you do it

Here are some examples of emotional anchors that students have shared with me over the years:

  • Putting your hand on heart and reciting a favorite prayer

  • A big audible inhale and exhale followed by playing a meaningful song in your head

  • Looking out at nature and reminding yourself what's most important, e.g., "The most important thing is to meet my experience with kindness."

  • Calling to mind a memory of a peak moment of love, contribution, safety, recognition, etc.

  • Bringing to mind the smile of someone who loves you fully or any deeply meaningful image

  • Shifting your body to an upright and expansive posture

  • Breathing through your heart or breathing into your center

  • Putting your attention on the center line of energy that moves up through your crown and down through your root

The important thing to understand about these anchors is that they are not meant to convince you of anything or push away the pain of the present moment.  They are simply meant to help you to stay in compassionate relationship to whatever reactive thoughts and experience is coming up.  Believing and then acting from your reactive thoughts means you have been swept up in the tidal wave that wreaks havoc for yourself and others.  Engaging your anchor allows the tidal wave to simply pass on by.  You get wet, but not lost.

Once the biggest wave subsides and you find yourself anchored in a compassionate relationship to your experience, you are ready to engage more subtle steps of self-reflection.  Here are some ways to move into relationship with your experience.  Engage them in the order that works best for you.

1. Ask yourself:

  • "What just happened that triggered me?"  Do the best you can to just name what happened by itself without any interpretations added.  For example, instead of saying "he got angry," you would say, "He said that doesn't work for him."

  • "What am I telling myself?" (For example, "I am telling myself s/he is judging me."  "I'm telling myself s/he is disrespecting me".  "I'm telling myself I am wrong."


2.    Place your attention on your body.

  •  What sensations am I noticing in my body?

  • Where do I tense up or relax?

  • Do I notice a temperature change?

  • What posture am I taking?


3.    Connect to feelings.

  • Feeling into my heart, what emotions  are there?


4.    Connect to needs.

  • "What am I needing right now?"  "What's important to me about this?"   (Use a needs list if you don't have the needs list memorized*).


5.    Make a request or take action.  

  • What do I want to do or say now to be in alignment with or meet my needs or the needs of someone else?


Connecting with yourself in this way will likely begin to dissolve reactivity.  However, this doesn't mean that reactivity around the same trigger won't appear again.  This doesn't mean that self-empathy doesn't work.  It simply means that you need more empathy.  Reactivity is fueled by habit energy.  You likely have "practiced" reactivity many more times that you have practiced self-empathy.  Mindfulness and repetition are required for self-empathy to stick in the face of reactivity.  



Take a moment now to name an emotional anchor.  Practice it and set your intention to engage it the next time you feel reactive.

*You can find a needs list here:  

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3 Responses

  1. Apr 02, 2009

    Thanks for a great post, LaShelle. I tweeted a link so others can find it as well :)

  2. Apr 02, 2009
    Janet Woodward

    This was very helpful, especially checking in with body reactions. They never lie, do they? For those of us who have a hard time identifying the real feelings, the body is an easier thing to read and question. Would there be enough material to write a Gem on the body reactions and what to do about them? Example: I notice i am not standing up straight when I walk. What does that tell me? And how do I get at the correction? Awareness and deliberate effort to stand tall actually has an effect on my state of mind, as well. The correction may be part of the solution.

  3. Apr 02, 2009

    Dear Janet, yea, a gem on tracking body signals and what they mean is a great idea. I will sit with how to write this as a gem. Thank you for your feedback and suggestion.

    Thank you Mary, too, for linking us to others:)

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