In the beginning of the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction programs, participants have the opportunity to express what is bringing them to the program and what they hope for. While there are a variety of factors that make up each person’s motivation, one thing that is common is a sense of unease and discomfort that each person is feeling. Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction provides an educational framework to explore and come to a greater understanding of this aspect of our experience.
In a recent retreat I attended, one of the teachers expressed it this way. One of the functions of mindfulness is to discover: “What the heck is going on here?” While there may be many different perceptions of our current condition, mindfulness provides a way to become clearer about our unease and how we can exacerbate the pain we feel as a result without our direct intention.
At the retreat I intended recently, the “story of the two arrows” was used as a way to understand how this happens. Here is how it works. In our lives, it is absolutely normal to experience unease and discomfort. It can be thought of and understood as experiencing a wound, as if we have been metaphorically shot by an arrow. Often without our knowing, we can end up wounding ourselves even further as a result of how we react to the original wound. This is the second arrow that we inflict on ourselves. For example, getting angry is a common response to feeling wounded. For myself, I recognize this happening in response to my thoughts that go something like this: “This shouldn’t be happening”. This sets up a chain reaction including trying to change what is happening and a lack of acceptance and tolerance. In the end, these reactions may reify the original wound and often without our full awareness, we can end up carrying it around deep in our bodies and mind.
To see this clearly is hard work and mindfulness practice can help us to slow down which will make it easier to see how this wounding happens. One way of thinking about this process is “to begin to map our minds, bodies, and heart”. Just like many of the early explorers of Canada made maps of the unfamiliar territory they were exploring, we too can begin to map our inner landscape, which includes the thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, and perceptions. With a clearer view of our own topography, we have the opportunity to make better conscious choices about how to handle the inevitable unease and discomfort in our lives.