As a means of physical survival, we are born with a self-serving nature. However, transforming that nature to be more like the Light is one of our purposes for being in this world. Rising above our inherent reactivity and behaving proactively, therefore, creates genuine spiritual transformation that connects us to endless Light and fulfillment.
When we allow outside situations or people to influence us, both positively and negatively, we are being reactive. If we feel angry or sad, for example, because something doesn’t go our way, and joy and excitement only when it does, that is an indication our emotions are controlling us. Reactive behavior, then, is prompted by ego, in which we allow ourselves to be the effect, or have a victim mentality. Examples of reactive behavior include bragging, lashing out, lying, gossiping, acts of violence, or, alternately, completely shutting down.
Proactive behavior, on the other hand, is when we act like the Light, being the cause and creator of our own life. When we behave proactively, we take responsibility for ourselves, never blaming a person or situation, no matter how badly that person is behaving or how horrible the situation may seem. Why? Because it is our reaction that is the adversary, and nothing external.
The source of reactive behavior is the Desire to Receive for the Self Alone, and since our essence is of the Desire to Receive, most (if not all) of our behavior is instinctually reactive, like a reflex. But we need these reactive moments in order to transform and grow spiritually. So, while choosing to behave proactively is difficult because it goes against our inherent nature, doing so is what allows us to earn the Light and long-term fulfillment.
The first step towards transforming our nature is to take a pause when we are reactively triggered, and recognize that our real challenge is our reaction, not the situation or other person. The next step is to overcome the reactive desire to do what comes easily and naturally, using the kabbalistic tool of restriction. Once we restrict from acting on our impulse, we can ask the Light to show us what the most proactive step to take would be; is it to walk away, listen, reason things out? Whatever it is, the proactive action will come from a place of love, sharing, and Light.
The Proactive Method
When put together, all of the above mentioned steps form the Proactive Method, a tool we can use to transform our reactivity into proactive behavior.
Here is an example of the Proactive Method at work:
I get stuck in a traffic jam, which will make me late to work. I am aware of the emotions that come up – anger and impatience - but restrict from acting on those emotions. I know there is a reason the Light sent me this opportunity, and ask what proactive steps I can take to overcome my reactivity. I can call my office to let them know I will be late, and then put on some music I enjoy listening to while I’m stuck in the car. Why? Because there is nothing I can do about the traffic, only about my reactions.
Situations come up all the time that trigger our reactivity, but the Proactive Method helps us stay focused on these situations’ purposes and how to overcome our reactions. Every encounter we have that causes our reactive nature to flare up is actually an opportunity the Light gives us to transform, thereby drawing more Light and blessings into our lives.
Resisting the pull of our reactivity is not important just so that we can better connect to the Light; it is also important because it helps us connect to other people. Our egos create the illusion of separation, keeping us from empathizing and relating with others, staying stuck only in ourselves. But we are all connected, and part of our purpose in this world, kabbalists teach, is to experience unity with each other. Rav Berg, in his book Education of a Kabbalist, writes, “We exist on this earth as physical bodies, but within us are our souls, and our souls are a part of the Creator. Since there is only one Creator, and because we are all connected to Him in this way, we are therefore connected to each other. All of us, all of our souls – no matter how divided we may appear to be – exist in unity.” Overcoming our reactive behavior helps us to feel that unity.