The Two Arrows
Of all the things I teach on any mindfulness course, the parable of the two arrows seems to resonate most strongly with people. If you were hit by an arrow, there is considerable localised pain which, hopefully, can be treated quickly and will in time go away. The second arrow is longer lasting and represents the emotional response to the first arrow. The endless questioning: Why me? What if I’m injured and can’t work? I’ll not be able to pay the mortgage, and might lose the house. What if I get an infection? If only I hadn’t been in that place, stayed so long / left so early… why? What if…? What if…? The irony is, although we have all been on the receiving end of ‘first arrows’ in life (difficulties, heartache, obstructions), the pain of the second arrow lasts much longer than the first arrow and we fire it at ourselves.
In other words, it is how we react to events in life that perpetuates our suffering. The good news is, of course, that we can choose how we create the story around what is happening in our lives. For example, my growing children want to spend less time with me. Do I tell myself that that I’m an awful mother who they don’t like or a successful mother who has raised confident children ready to be independent adults? This ‘multiple choice’ of emotion is presented constantly to us; the friend who walks past without acknowledging us, have we upset them (cue anxiety), are they worried about something (cue concern) or are they not wearing their glasses (bless!)
Having the reflective space to explore how we perceive things and exploring ways of creating a different story is the stuff of psychotherapy or counselling. With support as we talk through life events and our reaction, we can become more aware of our values, judgements, beliefs and how they impact on how we are with others and, importantly how we are with ourselves. Quite often this involves a realisation that while we may have enormous capacity for kindness and understanding towards others, this does not extend to kindness and understanding towards ourselves. All too often we judge ourselves harshly.
Of course, there will be those first arrows which simply can’t be perceived in a different way; that are just cruel and painful. Sometimes having somebody independent to talk to can be helpful at these difficult times, when life is a struggle and things seem far from fair, or easy.
Learning Mindfulness can also be a way to examine how we respond to life events, perhaps by noticing where we carry a stress reaction in our body, before we even figure out what is really bothering us. Mindfulness also invites attention on the here and now, not mulling over yesterday or projecting about tomorrow but this very moment in time. Quite often, ‘now’ is actually alright, it’s manageable, and even, maybe, just perhaps, it can be quite lovely.
‘And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow’ W.B. Yeats.
Jane is a qualified psychotherapist who practises in Thame. In addition to her one to one support for clients, Jane runs regular Mindfulness courses and taster sessions in Bledlow and Maidenhead. Jane is a member of BACP and the UK Listing of Mindfulness Teachers.
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