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Blog: Learning to Respond, Not React

Aug 25, 2011

If we are to wake up out of our patterning, a key element of that is to be able to pause, recognize and open to a larger space than the cocoon that our mind is creating in thought. Our tendency is to get lost in a cycle of reactivity. In order to be able to step out of that cycle, we need to cultivate the ability to pause, recognize and open

I often use the metaphor of the second arrow because I find it just so helpful. The Buddha told a parable and the teaching was:

“If you get struck by an arrow, do you then shoot another arrow into yourself?”

If we look at the way we move through the day, when something happens, when we have pain in our body, when somebody treats us in a way that feels disrespectful, when something goes wrong for someone we love, that’s the first arrow. Our mind and body go into a reactivity that does not help to bring healing. We blame others, we blame ourselves. That’s the second arrow.

Healing and Freedom come from non-proliferation of our thoughts. Non-proliferation means we have the wisdom in our lives to pause and re-arrive in the present moment. In that manner we can tap the wisdom and the kindness that is intrinsic to our nature. We then can respond with intelligence instead of a kind of fear-based reaction.

This is similar to what we do in our meditation practice, we begin to pause, recognize and open to the space that’s here. Let’s say you’re beating yourself up about a mistake you made, and you say to yourself:

“Okay, let me just sit and be, let me pause.  Can I recognize what is going on? Can I recognize what is actually here—the larger space of sound, sensation and feelings?  Can I open to the presence that is here?”

When we start paying attention to what is in the moment, we come home to our naturally wise heart. From presence we can respond to the situation that’s been created rather than react.

“Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving until the right action arises by itself?”
— Tao Te Ching

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