No Reactions, No Preferences

  By Diane Kennedy Pike


I used to smile in ironic amusement when I read the Third Patriarch's words, "The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences." I figured it was probably true, but that few of us would ever know. We humans are full of preferences of all kinds.

Nevertheless, I have kept observing my impulses to react to things based on preferences, values, and opinions. When I automatically react to what someone says or does, or to what happens, I go immediately into a waking dream. It is my intention to stay awake so that I can respond to what actually is, in the energy world. Reactions, which arise out of habit patterns, take the place of conscious choice making at every opportunity.

Of course, after I observe a reaction, I can make a new choice. I do that if I remember who I am in that moment, if I have a clear purpose, and if I remember to breathe. Those are all big ifs, but I have made progress.

Some months ago (or is it years, now?) I began to observe that even when I am making conscious choices there are shadow impulses standing just on the periphery of my awareness, ready to jump in if I let my vigilance lapse. When I have a strong sense of self and a clear purpose, these shadow impulses do not intrude. Instead, they shimmer just enough to let me know they are available if a space opens up for them to slip through.

I have watched with amusement and sometimes amazement at the "alternatives" those shadow impulses present to me. They suggest that I could feel sorry for myself here, or get my feelings hurt there. I could lash out here, or withdraw into myself there. I could get angry, hold on to resentment, voice a criticism, or grow impatient. The list is endless. All these possibilities, so often chosen and given expression in the past, still hang around in case I lapse into automatic living. They are available to fill the vacancy left when I am not consciously aware of making choices.


One day during the summer on the tennis court a remarkable thing occurred. OSO made two comments, either one of which on an ordinary day when my attention has gone fuzzy would have triggered old reactions in me. In both cases, because I was utterly present in the moment, focused on my mantra "this is energy, that is energy," the remarks flew across the net, entered my field and passed on through. My first observation was "Nothing happened!" That meant two things. Nothing happened in the sense that I did not react, and nothing happened in that because I didn't react, my energy state did not change.

This was so astonishing that my whole field filled with joy, followed by eager anticipation of the next exchange. I was able to sustain the state of no reaction for the rest of the match. I was thrilled.

I felt I had caught hold of the tail of the tiger of self-mastery at last! If I could live in this state of no reaction, then I could truly listen within to see what response I wanted to make, aligned with my own purpose, in every situation. No time would need to be spent "processing" the waking dreams that get triggered. I would not distract myself from the moment at hand. I could actually choose what to create.

You can be certain that I began practicing that new reality of no reactions every day in every context.

One night some weeks later, OSO and I were staying in a hotel. Some people checked in next door to us and proceeded to have what we assume was a party. It sounded like there was a whole crowd of them, but we never in fact saw them. It was about 10:00 PM on a Saturday night. By 11:00 PM we were ready to go to sleep and they were getting more and more raucous. I told OSO, "I'm going to tell my psyche to pay no attention to all the noise, to have no preferences, and to create no reactions."

The next morning OSO told me that she couldn't believe what had happened. I made my statement and within about three minutes I was sound asleep. Since it took her a lot longer to fall asleep, she had plenty of time to reflect on the effectiveness of my approach!

I awakened several times during the night when doors were slammed very loudly or people were out in the hall pounding on doors asking to be let in, or calling to each other down the hall. Each time I took note of what was happening and simply went right back to sleep. No reactions.

The next morning while I was aligning myself internally for the day ahead, they were still pounding on doors and yelling at one another. A strong urge arose in me to go out into the hall and tell them how rude and thoughtless they were, and to suggest that they use the phone down the hall to call the room and ask to be let in. The minute the urge arose, my internal peace was disturbed for the first time. It was as if a wind had come up over a lake and suddenly there were white caps all over the surface of the water. I took a breath and reminded myself: create no reactions. The internal wind died down and all was peaceful again, though the rowdies were still in the hall yelling and pounding.


After a blissful few weeks of enjoying no reactions, I received a letter from a fellow homeowner who has provided several of us in this small community with many opportunities to practice staying conscious without taking things personally. This letter was a culmination of a series, and when I read it I flew into a rage. I have not experienced so much anger in many years. I called the guy all kinds of names and shouted out all the things I would do to him.

Before long I noticed "I am in a waking dream of major proportions" but I could not lift up out of it. It was as if my entire energy field was filled with thick smoke. I couldn't see anything, though it was clear that the fire was in my solar plexus. I steamed and snorted for hours, occasionally wondering what this was really about for me. By the late afternoon I identified my sense of self: I was in my "fighter/tough kid" sense of self. She hadn't showed up this powerfully since my teen years. I was ready to beat up on this guy!

By the next morning, I had written the whole thing up as a waking dream, but I could not see it clearly. I was still caught in it. Since then the meaning of the dream has become clear and there have been many learnings. Perhaps the most prominent was the realization of what my reaction of anger created in my energy field. I could not see, I could not think clearly, I could not direct myself to make new choices. I was completely blinded and held hostage by my reaction. The contrast with the freedom, joy, spaciousness, and clarity I experience when I have no reaction was so profound that I will never forget the lesson.

I am thrilled to have made this discovery. I can now see that the Third Patriarch may not have been speaking of "having" no preferences, but rather of not awakening them. I find that there are many situations in which expressing my preferences is simply a part of the decision-making process: do I prefer water or coffee? But in most situations throughout the day, my preferences are irrelevant. Since I do not make choices for others, to "prefer" that they make another choice only awakens a reaction in me and I am off into my waking dream instead of staying present to what they have in fact said or done.

I am willing to stay open to the fact that perhaps when you seldom express preferences, they eventually fall away altogether. Perhaps it really is possible to "have no preferences." If so, then choice making would be made on a different basis, probably in response to inner impulse in alignment with one's larger purpose. I will report my discoveries if I get to that point. For now, I am thrilled to discover that my preferences can stay in the background and I can refrain from creating any reaction.

I do not mean to suggest that it is easy to put this awareness into practice. It took me years of disciplined self-observation and choice-making to discover that it was possible not to create a reaction of any kind. But it is definitely worth it. I feel new possibilities of all kinds will open to me as I sustain this state, and I eagerly await them.


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