Respond, don't react

During a research meeting today, my brilliant colleague casually said a phrase that immediately caught my attention:  “Respond, don’t react.” 

What a simple, yet powerful phrase. 

This got me thinking.  How often do you find yourself reacting rashly with emotions, to the silliest of things?

For example, as I was walking through the myriad of passengers through the chaotic NYC subway, a stranger bumped into me out of nowhere.  Instead of ignoring this accidental and innocent shove we are all guilty of doing, I reacted  instantly with a scowl.

He happened to be carrying a pile of books accompanied by a face buried in anxiety and distress. As we exchanged this momentary stare,  I immediately felt horrible for my premature reaction. He clearly had a lot on his plate that day, facing the many challenges that his college education presented him with. Instead of responding to the accidental nudge with kindness, I reacted with anger. More so, the person who dealt with the brunt of that anger was not the anonymous Columbia student, but ME.  When we react without taking pause, we unleash the innumerable frustrations on an unsuspecting victim, who is likely dealing with their own set of challenges. Had I taken a moment to process the disturbances that I encountered, I would have surely been able to practice the art of Responding, and quelled the emotional reaction that ensued.

This is why we meditate, this is why we pause - to center ourselves, process our emotions, and present ourselves to the world as leaders and powers of example. If I had responded with a smile and a knowing nod, who knows what positive reaction could have catalyzed from that short, but heartfelt instant. Don’t let these moments pass you by – embrace them as opportunities to practice Seva in your daily life. We are on this earth to be of service, whether it be in a knowing smile or a save in the pediatric intensive care unit. We all have it in us…so how will you respond next?