What’s the difference between acting and reacting? – This was our topic of conversation over the morning coffee yesterday. Do we ever act or we only react? We tried to think of some activities where we were only ‘acting’ without responding to anything outside/inside. Here is an example how the discussion went:
I drink water when I am thirsty. Obviously I am responding to the thirst. But if I am filling my water bottle so that I would be able to drink water whenever I am thirsty, is ‘filling the water bottle’ an action or reaction? Though at first sight it looks like an action, am I not reacting to the thought of ‘needing water’ in the future?
Soon it became more and more obvious that there is actually nothing like pure ‘action’. Whatever we do is actually some sort of reaction; either to an external stimuli or to the stuff in the mind. The only difference I could think of is that there is an element of ‘choice’ that distinguishes between action and reaction. But then the choice was only influencing the quality; the basic idea of reacting still remains.
Though it’s well known that most of our action are in fact reactions, it is really scary to think that we only react. Because in order to react, I need an ‘environment’ around me to react to and I need time that separate the two acts. My mind that reacts has also come in to existence as a result of reacting to the environment and time. So, if there was no environment to react to, there would be no mind, no action and no me. This means when I say I exist, that’s not completely true. It’s the environment that exist and I am just a byproduct of the reaction to it. If the environment does not exist, I too do not exist.
Now shift your perspective a bit. The environment is not one entity, but is rather made of people, their thoughts, objects, events etc. Extending the same concept, each of these entities only exist because they react to their environment. For these entities I am also part of the environment.
This now takes the problem to another dimension. This means that the environment also does not exist in reality; it’s also a byproduct of reacting to its environment . So everything exists through responding to everything else. Then in reality what exists?
This is what the Indian mystics call Maya or the illusion…
It may be far easier to imagine that we are actually ‘acting’ and not ‘reacting’ and live with that belief. It’s going to be an ‘action’ because I am going to choose it. Great me!