Some Meditations on Action Versus Reaction
Hiking around my new Habitat of Lantau Island last week, I realized that I am living just a few kilometers away from the Dhamma Muttā Vipassana Meditation Center.
Vipassana is an ancient Buddhist meditation technique, focused primarily on achieving happiness (an overcoming suffering) by separating awareness from all physical reactions. Today the Vipassana movement operates 177 centers (and 134 non-centers) worldwide, offering free non-secular meditation courses (the courses are financed by voluntary donations of students).
I would love to sign up for the next course intake immediately. However, Vipassana is exclusively taught in the form of a ten-day silent retreat. As intriguing as it would be to sign up right the next course intakes, my job as General Manager in a fast-paced start-up company makes it rather difficult to disappear for a full ten days, without being able to check emails, take calls or even react to text messages. Eventually, I will do the course, as I believe the underlying techniques and principles are highly useful for many aspects of life.
Human Oxygen Molecules
The truth is, almost all of us react too much to all kind of external stimuli. We get up with the best intentions, then someone cuts our line at the coffee shop, and our mood is spoiled for the rest of the day. Over and over we waste our energy reacting to things that have nothing to do with the goals we planned to achieve.
At work, we primarily spend time reducing the number of emails in our inbox, solving other people’s problems. We are like oxygen molecules, reacting to and with anything that gets close to us.
Often, we are not even aware of our reactivity; we confuse reacting with acting.
As I see it, the difference between both is much more than just a syllable. If you act, you do so self-determined, autonomously. You chose your course of action freely.
If you react, your hand is forced by somebody else.
There are situations, where reacting fast is highly beneficial. Even an advanced meditation practitioner might want to duck his head under a surprise sucker punch coming his way. But if your whole life is mainly determined by reacting, you will get tossed around like boat without a rudder in big waves: You might stay afloat, but very unlikely reach your destination.
If you want to be successful in life and career, you need to learn to separate observation from reacting to it. Observe, analyze, plan and then act. Often the need to react can be preempted by thorough planning. If your plan was good and you anticipated potential problems and countermeasures, you can stay on course, even in the face of strong headwinds.
Overly Agile Companies
The Vipassana principles do not just apply to natural persons. Especially companies are prone to overreacting.
In today’s fast-paced business world, every company prides itself in being agile and able to react fast to changing environments. However, it is simply impossible to run a company efficiently, that changes course on every single customer feedback or tries to chase every trend. A company that only reacts and never acts will likely burn through a lot of employees and possibly not reach its full potential.
Maybe Vipassana courses for entire companies would be the way to go?
If you have the luxury of being able to escape all professional and private responsibilities for ten days and you feel sane and fit enough to spend ten days in silent meditation, I would highly recommend considering a Vipassana course.
If this is not an option for you, maybe you should at least ask yourself honestly and on a regular base:
“Am I acting or just reacting?”