“Take a look at your Sent folder. Is it filled with subject lines that start with RE: ? Consider your job at the University–do you actively recruit people who don’t even apply for professorships? What about your blog–does it start conversations or just continue them?” — Seth Godin
The way we interact with the world reflects our state of awareness and the current stage of personal evolution. The more our awareness expands, the more empowered we become in our ways of participating in life.
In this society, most of us need to go through three main stages of personal evolution. Those stages translate into specific manners of interacting with the world: reacting, responding and initiating.
This is the journey that eventually leads us to realize that we are not powerless. We can take charge of our own lives.
Initially, we are only able to unconsciously react to that which happens to us. This is the period of our lives when pretty much everything seems beyond our control. People are in a certain way, we are in a certain way — and there is not much to be done about it.
Then, our personal evolution is initiated in the moment we become ready to observe. This is when we learn how to take a deep breath before we react to the happenings of the world. Consequently, our reactions gradually transform into responses.
But this still means sending the “RE:” emails. This is still about waiting for things to happen and only then selecting our finest words and behaviours in order to reply to them.
Ultimately, an evolving human is working towards the mode in which she or he discovers how to initiate and make things happen. This is where personal evolution touches the practical realm. This is when we start transforming the world based on how we have transformed ourselves.
In a goal-oriented mentality which you and I possess, it is easy to value the initiating mode above the reactive and responsive ones. But for most of us, it isn’t possible to jump to “initiating” overnight. Working our way through reactivity and responsiveness are necessary stages that we need to go through.
They are valid parts of the journey and valid parts of being human.
This is why I treat them with an equal respect to the leader-like, “confident” stage of initiating. This is also why I am publishing this article — to show you that it is valid to go through both reactivity and responsiveness, and someday become an initiator of change.
We all start as REACTIVE beings
Being brought up in a post-industrial society with all its default beliefs, we are obviously trained to react to our circumstances. What does that mean? Usually, that we see ourselves as victims. We do not only wait for things to happen to us — we go further than that in our thinking. We assume we don’t have any power to influence the reality.
Things are simply occurring according to some mysterious order (or chaos) and the best we can do is to quietly accept it.
Not only do we feel powerless in the reactive mode. We also interact with people and events in a very peculiar way — which we don’t see as peculiar, because it doesn’t even cross our minds to question it. This way of interacting stems from the fact that our minds are not present in the moment. We live in the past regrets or future projections, without noticing much of what happens in front of our eyes in any given moment.
Our absence from the present is exactly what causes us to react. Our minds are in the past, therefore we behave based on what happened in the past — rather than on what is happening now. We act out the “lessons” we learned when we were children. Except that they were not real lessons, but merely programs embedded deep in our operating systems.
“If she insults me like that, I tell her to fuck off.”
“If I think I don’t have enough money, I start crying.”
The above are by no means conscious decisions about how to act. They are default reactions and defence mechanisms dictated by our unconscious mind.
Reacting seems to happen without our will. We don’t seem to be able to control it. Instead, this mode of operating controls us. It forces us to display our deeply rooted habits, over and over again. This is what a re-action really is: a habitual action of ours that we put on repeat and press the “play” button whenever specific cues occur.
The starting point of personal evolution occurs when we start noticing what we are doing — acting out the same scenario, again and again. The transition to responsiveness doesn’t begin with wanting to change our behaviour. It starts with finding the readiness and openness to observe ourselves. Even if we don’t like what we see. Even when what we find is extremely uncomfortable.
We need to be able to recognize that we are reacting before we can gradually switch to the responsive mode.
Learning to RESPOND is when we save our own lives
When we transition to the responsive mode, we still majorly rely on the events happening to us in the outer world. Our actions are largely determined by what other people say and do, and by what our environment looks like.
In other words: we still wait around for someone else to ask us out on a date — instead of us asking them.
But something major already changed in us. First and foremost, we are able to root ourselves in the present and see what is really going on, here and now. Instead of getting lost in a spiral of fearful or angry thoughts — we simply become aware of those thoughts. We are able to discern the objective reality from what is going on in our heads.
This is the stage of personal evolution when people start practising meditation, mindfulness or sign up for coaching. One of the most remarkable points of the responsive mode is being able to acknowledge the value of looking within. Knowing thyself.
The backbone of operating in the responsive mode is being present in the moment. This is what allows us to make decisions from an intentional place. At this stage, we are already able to choose what we are going to say or do — even in response to extremely overwhelming emotions. And having a choice in each and every moment brings us closer to the place of our very own power. The power which is sourced internally, rather than externally.
We can simply see — not always, but more and more often — that life choices are, in fact, infinite. It is the choice we make in the present that determines our future circumstances. In the responsive mode, we can finally grasp that. We get to know the law of cause and effect.
This brings us to the certainty that we create our own reality. From this point onward, life can only become better.
INITIATING becomes the only possible option
From knowing that we can shape our own life to actually doing so, it takes one more leap in our personal evolution. You might know that your life is in your hands and you might recognize the joys and comfort of the present moment. But no major difference is apparent before you actually dare to initiate changes in your life.
As you grow as a person and become increasingly aware, you will realize that people in your closest environment are not necessarily living according to your values.
You may notice your friends lying to you or even to themselves.
You may see people drinking themselves to deep unconsciousness, without any idea that they could be spending their Saturday night in a different way.
You may realize how colleagues at your workplace manipulate each other in order to protect themselves from an even more manipulative boss.
Now: you have evolved enough to be able to respond to those situations. You know how to observe yourself, your emotions, your thoughts — and how to act from a conscious place. Maybe even from a compassionate place.
But the tangible change in your life only takes place when you start initiating situations that you would like to see in your immediate environment.
This is the moment when you need the courage to dare. Refusing to go to a drunken party is a fine response — up until a certain point. Then you find yourself needing an alternative form of socialising, rather than just giving up the old one. And you may realize that your default environment, as it is right now, cannot offer you what you need.
That’s because your needs have changed.
When you have grown out of your present circumstances, you will face a choice.
You either respond to the offerings of your environment and most likely go without having your needs met.
Or, because you have grown so much, you are ready to bring your needs to the table, articulate them and make sure they are satisfied.
In order for this to happen, you will need to initiate things that you want to experience.
Organise an alternative party, focused around playing a board game or charades. Change the topic of the conversation from destructive to constructive. Say it out loud that this work should be done differently, and that you will organise a new framework to do that.
At first, it might seem that you are not initiating anything worthwhile, that these are just small suggestions to do insignificant things differently. But to start with, it doesn’t matter what you are initiating. What matters is that you are already operating on a different level of consciousness.
You once were a reactive being, seemingly unable to control your own behaviour. Then you gradually developed basic self-awareness, which empowered you to respond, rather than react to your circumstances. With time, you grew enough to see certain events and behaviours as unacceptable, according to your new standards.
Initiating change simply became the only reasonable way to proceed. Not a badge of honour for you to wear with fake pride, and not a martyr-style way of fighting with the world.
Initiating change is simply a natural expression of you being alive. Welcome home.