How to Break Free of Automatic Response


“Fog” copyright 2003 by pb3131 used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

Have you ever had an out of body experience?You know, a moment where you are doing or saying something but it feels like you’re watching someone else doing or saying it?  Consciously creating this sensation is today’s focus, to Watch.

“The highest spiritual practice is self-observation without judgment,”

Swami Kripalu

Developing the ability to observe, without judgment, was instrumental in my meditation practice. It’s also the skill that has most benefited my entire life.

Quick side note here, if you haven’t read the previous meditation posts on Breathe, Relax, and Feel, I encourage you to do so before continuing.  This series shows you how to create a meditation practice using the foundational tool of BRFWA and each element builds on the previous one. The exercises in Breathe, Relax and Feel (BRF) establish your ability to take stock of how and what you feel without judgment.  And the key part is: without judgment.

But, back to Watch (BRFWA). What is Watch and how does it relate to out of body experiences?

Watch is about space.

Not physical space, emotional space.  We are animals and as animals we have instincts and learned behavior.  Given a particular stimulus, such as a coworker, a sentence, even a single word, we react. This reaction is instinctual, habitual.  We don’t think or consider; we simply react.  Sometimes these reactions are positive, like the smile that lights up our face when our child enters the room.  Sometimes these reactions are negative.

Often, especially with negative reactions, we want to change or temper that reaction. Doing so requires a great deal of self-study.  It also requires creating space between the stimulus and the reaction.  Once that space is built we have the time to recognize the stimulus and the freedom to choose our reaction.  In this space you are the person in action and, according to Kripalu Yoga, the Watcher or the compassionate observer.

The incredible thing about this space is that it is the source of limitless options. It is the source of freedom.

So, how does one go about developing this compassionate observer and put him/her to good use?

From the beginning of this series, we laid the foundation for this space.  With each exercise I asked you to notice without judgment. In other words, I asked you to observe with compassion. And I asked you to be ok with whatever you felt.  This takes practice.  It requires humility, perseverance, patience and honesty, especially towards you.

It’s easy to expect perfection. And when we fail, when we react in a way that we’d like to change, these are opportunities to learn, to practice compassion. So the next time you yell at your kids or roll your eyes at your boss, remember to take a breath and turn the compassion inward.  Simply take note of what happened and be willing to try again later.  It does get easier.


Usually at this point I walk through a specific exercise.  Today I invite you to revisit the previous exercises and to be mindful and aware of your body.  There are physical changes in the human body when stress, pressure or adversity appears.  As you tune into your body a fog of reaction lifts and these physical changes become clearer.  So when find your heart beating faster, your breath becoming shallow and your blood pressure rising, work to press the internal pause. Notice the situation, your reaction and the feelings. If you want to react differently, imagine how that looks and feels. Make it clear in your mind and move in that direction.  Journaling, if you find it helpful, is a great tool to identify situations where you want to create space and compassionately observe.


12 thoughts on “How to Break Free of Automatic Response

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