exercise one: reactivity

Why do it?

A key element of meditation is noticing. Seeing what happens in the brain and taking note of it. When we make a drawing we look at the results and assess how ‘good’ it is. For adults ‘good’ probably means – “how close does it look to the thing I was drawing?”. The classic example is drawing a face. If you can recognise the person from the drawing you would probably think it is good, if it at least looks like a face it might still be fairly good but if it doesn’t look much like a real face at all then we might think it is a ‘bad’ drawing.

Good and bad may be just words but they have an impact on us. If we do a drawing which we think is good we feel pleased. If on the other hand we think the drawing is bad we feel, well, bad. The key words here are ‘we feel…’ and this feeling is remarkably powerful. If we feel bad about our efforts at something like drawing we might well never try it again. We really don’t like feeling bad, particularly if the bad feeling comes from our own hand!

This particular ‘bad’ feeling we call ’embarrassment’, it might even lead to ‘humiliation’ depending on the reaction of others. The point is though that these terms refer to feelings. And feelings are not real things. They feel real, but that is the point, they only feel real. Feelings have emerged over time through evolution to help us survive. Imagine a young hunter leaving the village for the first time to prove their ability to the group, the fear of humiliation at failure is going to provide a very useful motivation. But a feeling that helped our ancestor to survive in social groups and not be outcast, leading to certain death, is not particularly useful in helping us to draw.

So to go back to point of the exercise; we need to notice how we feel when we do drawings and when we look at drawings, because this can help train the mind to recognise feelings for what they are.

How we feel when reacting is known as reactivity. A very important aspect of all these drawing exercises is noticing how we feel, noticing how we react to those feelings, in short, reactivity.

Do what?

Later we will concentrate on how we feel when we are actually doing the drawings but for the first exercises we will concentrate on focusing on what we see while drawing. The reactivity we will save for when we look at the drawings.

Repeat the first five minute drawing exercise and this time when the timer goes stop but do not look down at the drawing you have done. Spend a minute or so thinking about how you felt doing the drawing and write down the first word or two that comes to mind, write these words without looking at the paper.

Again without looking down, think about how you are going to feel when you look at the drawing. Try to picture yourself looking at the drawing and anticipate your reactions, your reactivity.

Now look down at the drawing and focus on how you are feeling. How are you actually reacting?

Write down how you thought you would react and underneath write how you actually reacted.

Spend a little time assessing your reactivity to the drawing process and the drawing itself. This practice, noticing reactivity is perhaps the most important aspect of the whole meditation process. Feelings can control our lives, our lives can be dominated by how we feel and this can be debilitating. A central aim of meditation is to free us from the tyranny of reactivity. To put us in control of our feelings rather than have feeling control our lives.