Deepening Response: Tips For Acting Response-ably
Tips For Acting Response-ably
Excerpted from the now available Spring 2012 Issue of
Plant Healer Magazine
by Jesse Wolf Hardin
A light swirl of snow is blowing through the canyon as I write this intro, barely wetting the soil so far. Preceded and followed by unseasonably warm days, it is a blessing nonetheless. There are folks who planned to arrive, but who postponed or canceled in response to what they feared would be a debilitating storm. Our helper, Fritz, has responded by working on the outdoor kitchen construction even in this blowing white. Our considered but trained response was to make sure the tools were all put away were they wouldn’t rust, covering the burn barrel to keep its ash dry until we dump it, uncovering the rain barrels in preparation for catching whatever amount of moisture spills from our cabins’ metal roofs. A longer term response involves improvement of the water cache system, and erosion control where the ground is most susceptible to being stripped. I sit here and write for you, in response to our desire to reach, share and teach, and to your desire to read, learn, know. I respond in emails to the things that students and friends write, bus also to what they leave out, avoid or conceal, all with the aim of healing and helping. Nearly all my actions are deliberate and a result of discernment and choice, with specific intentions and in hopes of particular desired results.
It is discernment, gained through the processes of intuition and critical thinking, that makes optimum action possible… and once we have discerned a danger or opportunity, need or course, it is for us to determine a purposeful and optimal response.
“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.” –Johann von Goethe
Let’s be clear on the definitions from the start. A reaction is any action elicited by another action, from chemical reactions to our reacting without thinking in an emotionally charged argument. Many reactions are habitual and unhelpful, others such as instincts are informed by the experiences of our entire species through time and are ever so valuable. Response can be distinguished from simple reaction, to the exact degree that it is conscious and aware, deliberate and intentional. We may react to a sudden loud noise inside a nearby building by crouching, covering our ears, or seeking directions from someone in authority, whereas an aware response might be to discern the source of the noise and then find ways to actively assist.
Response is choice made active. Even when we choose to cease our work and flop into the hammock, this too can be a conscious doing, recognizing our exhaustion or simply aware of and desirous of the scene and sensation. It is actively answering questions posed to us, but also the active choice to be silent or still. It is a response, for example, to choose fully take in a new and striking scene with a quiet mind, or to cease talking when you hear a worrisome noise that needs identifying.
The origin of the word “response” is Middle English, drawn from the Latin “responsum” which means “something offered in return.” Response is therefore a deliberate giving back, whether a verbal response to a question, or a physical response to a situation, facial expression or action. The key is “deliberate.” The difference between a reaction and a response is that a response is conscious and intentional. What we offer in return, may be wows and ahhs of amazement and satisfaction, upon being gifted by the sight of a spectacular sunset. Or our gratitude, when a botanical perfume we are making comes out just right, an herbal formula appears to work, or a student or client writes us to say how valuable our guidance has been. Our watering of a garden is an offering, when presented with parched and wilting herbs. When we are witness to injustice, we do well to offer remedy or resistance in turn. In the face of love, we rightly respond with love as well. When presented with a need, problem or illness, we may – in return – respond by offering suggestions or solutions, or help with healing.
“My biggest wish for my daughter is that she practices responsiveness. I never want her to look over her shoulder at her life, and think, ‘What is this? When did this happen?’ I never want her to wake up next to a lover she didn’t choose. I never want her to feel the pain and humiliation of being a passive observer in her own life.” –Jaclyn Leeson
In Anima, I’ve redefined the word “responsibility” as “the ability to respond”, which we all have to one degree or another, “and following through with needed action.”
We have a response-ability to do what we can to take care of and grow ourselves, to halt injustices whenever they are found, to ease the suffering we see, preserve and restore the natural world that we witness being degraded and destroyed. This does not mean obligation or debt, it means that with awareness of needs and problems comes awareness of our ability-to-respond, and there there is no excuse not to.
This is as true in the practice of herbalism, as it is in every other aspect of our lives. We are more empowered, less subject and victimized, the more aware we are, and the more wise and proactive our response. A big part of the work of healing is teaching folks to discern what is going on with their bodies and what conditions or actions may be affecting them, to critically consider the condition and the treatment options, and to optimally respond in ways meant to contribute to their long-term overall wellness.
Tips For Responding:
• Unconsidered reaction shines in the most immediate and dire of emergencies, but usually proves a dull tool next to true response
• A response answers the question that every situation and act poses “What is the best action for me to take in turn?”
• Another way to phrase this: “What is the optimal gift I can give in this situation (in contribution to truth, healing, justice, balance…)?”
• Our responses benefit from self knowledge as well as awareness, intuitive and bodily sensing, discernment, analysis and appraisal
• Reaction to being ruled, will be all that’s left for those failing to respond to the imposition of regulation
• Understanding our issues, biases, angle and perspective is essential to choosing the best response
• Know that every response made elicits further reactions, and respond with future ramifications, consequences and side effects in mind as well as immediate aims
• The effective person is both response-able and responsive
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Categories: Jesse Wolf Hardin – Essays & Tales, Practicing Animá Lifeways