It occurred to me earlier this week that instinct is what grounds me in my old ways. It seemed like a strange truth at first, if a truth at all, but the more I grappled with it the more it became clear to me that instinct, although often the result of years of experience and practice, can often hold me back from growing. But like pretty much everything in life, there are no absolutes. So what then would be the difference between those instincts that hold me back, versus those that propel me forward?
I believe it lies in defining the focus of what I wish to hone as a preferred response. Whenever that response was focused on my external reactions, including the manner in which I verbalised my thoughts, then it most often developed into instinctive responses to external challenges that caused me to cement my position very convincingly without giving me reason to pause for long enough to consider if there may be merit in what I was challenged with. I guess it’s the difference between having a prepared response for a similar situation, versus an assumed response for tokens of a similar situation. The difference is subtle, but important.
It’s the same as wanting to raise your hand to defend yourself from a perceived threat of an incoming blow when all that was done was someone standing close to you wanting to reach out and remove some lint from your shirt. Because we weren’t paying attention, the hand gesture appeared as a potential threat and instinctively we responded by going into attack mode. Fortunately, in such a situation it’s easy to very quickly realise that the attack is not in fact an attack, so we are able to restrain ourselves before striking at the person for their kind gesture. That’s the easy part.
The difficulty lies in our instincts that are informed by the internal conversations that we have. The smallest trigger from someone that invokes memories of a hardship or pain that left a scar we wish to hide from the world results in us responding to the storyline in our heads, with just enough attention being paid to the conversation at hand to ensure that we present our defence as a carefully considered retort to something that was implied, even though it most probably was not. It’s almost as tiring as that last sentence was to write.
Instinct does not create new realisations. It simply reinforces what we’ve learnt before. Each time our instinct proves to be a successful response to a perceived threat, it becomes ingrained even deeper and defended more fiercely than ever. If our focus is on growth, our instinctive responses will be observed so that we constantly adapt it relevant to the new realisations that we acquire with each moment that passes. If our focus is on defending the struggles of our lives, then we’ll remain rooted in developing our defences aimed at demanding recognition for every battle we fought. Most fall into the latter category, that is why we find ourselves in a society that is instinctively victims by nature, and violent in expression.