When we see that word, many of us probably think of examples such as getting a massage or a pedicure or we think of actions like following a proper diet, getting enough exercise and sleep. These are all great ideas (and I highly encourage you to do them), but what about being kind to ourselves, not beating ourselves up when we don’t meet our standards of how we think we should act or respond to events in our outside world?
Sometimes we are our own worst critics. When I say or do something that I later end up regretting, I tend to shoot myself with “the second arrow” as they say in Buddhism. The first arrow is usually an event or situation that occurs with no advance warning. It is unexpected and can throw you off balance. Let’s say you walk in the door after a tough day at work and your spouse jumps at you for something you did or did not do (you know what I am talking about!!) that you were supposed to, it sets off a “startle response” in your brain. What you say or do in the next few seconds literally makes a difference in how the rest of the evening turns out!
You usually would respond one of two ways. The first may be to take a deep breath, pause for a few seconds and realize that your partner likely had a rough day as well. You then respond in a calm and loving manner, apologizing for your part in his or her distress. Ya right!!!! If that’s how you respond, you don’t need to read this further.. Just kidding!
If you are human like me though, your response is likely to be a string of cuss words, (hopefully just in your mind) and then counter attack. Okay, that NEVER ends in a pleasant way, I mean NEVER!!
When things finally calm down and you have kissed and made up, (time here to do so can vary from days to months!), that is when you are struck by the “second arrow”. It can be labeled “if only”, ” I am an idiot, why can I never learn to control my temper”, ” how is it the rest of the world seems to handle this stuff calmly and I always seem to blow it” or my favorite ” I can only blame my parents for all the bills I pay to my therapist”….!!!
Luckily, there is a way to train yourself to respond in a better way to the first arrow AND avoid the second arrow. It is called mindfulness practice. Meditation has been shown to change the way our brains are wired and therefore, our responses to stressful situations. Over time and with practice, one can take the benefits “off the cushion” and into the real world.
So how has it been going for me? I have to admit, rather slowly. When I was younger, I was quick to blow a fuse. It seemed like I simply could not control my immediate response. There were words said and emails sent that I later regretted. For a while after, I was able to remember to just save my response as a draft and try REALLY hard not to hit the “Send” button. The response I hated the most in myself was when a lump would form in my throat and I knew the tears were not very far away. Yes, I have cried at work…and then felt absolutely mortified that I could not control myself.
Now I look back and think I was still being very hard on myself. I would have preferred more gentleness. Knowing that I had it in me to deal with a similar situation in a more modulated way the next time. As I may have mentioned before, I have been an erratic meditator for many years. In 2017, I attended my first week long meditation retreat at the Shambhala mountain center in Colorado. It was an amazing experience and I got to meet some women who are still some of my closest friends. In just that one week, I could feel a shift happening inside me. Although, I still did not practice regularly after the retreat as I had hoped to do, I knew something had changed.
Anyway, when the opportunity arose to train online with one of the teachers, Susan Piver and her friend-partner, Jenna Hollenstein, I jumped at the chance and underwent a nine week meditation instructor training course. I became more regular with my practice and noted right away what a difference it made off the cushion in my day to day life. My responses to unexpected situations were calmer and I was able to respond rather than react. I am now part of the alumni group and we meet online every week to sit together in meditation and then we discuss a topic related to meditation.
There is a sense of community and accountability that comes in just like with any other habit and I need this to be consistent with my meditation practice.
I try to get to my cushion every day, but am not always successful. But there is no more a need inside of me to beat myself up about it. I just know that one can always begin with a “fresh start”. ALWAYS. And there is no limit to how many fresh starts we get.
It is a beautiful balance.
And this translates to how we approach situations in daily life.
So I encourage you to consider starting a regular meditation practice daily and join the millions of people all around the world who are already doing it. In the meantime, think about what small measures you can take to avoid stepping on that mine the next time!!