by Beth Glosten
Two mindfulness tools helped me navigate a recent loss. First, the Buddhist teaching story of the “two darts.” That is, life contains unavoidable pain, difficulties and challenges. These are the “first darts” of life.
However, we can add to our pain by allowing the mind to magnify, expand on, and add to our suffering by firing “second darts” of regret, doubt, and second-guessing.
Another tool is assigning a “feeling tone” to a situation: labeling a situation “pleasant,” “unpleasant,” or “neutral,” can give space between the event and how we respond. I frequently use this technique in traffic. I note that the traffic is “unpleasant,” and suddenly it is less personal. It is just the way it is.
I am an avid horseback rider -- no less than a certified dressage geek. I take my sport seriously, and have worked and trained at it for a large portion of my life. However, a few months ago, I found myself without an equine partner for the first time in over 30 years. My emotional response to this life change took me by surprise.
I found myself really sad every now and then during the weeks after my horse moved away. I wondered what was going on, and initially didn’t consider my horse loss as the reason. Then I realized I was grieving the loss of this source of passion and joy. The first dart.
Oh my, was I good at bringing on additional darts: “You shouldn’t be feeling low for no longer having a horse, you should be grateful that you were able to have a horse in the first place.” I quietly removed that second dart, bandaging the site with “I am grateful for the years I’ve had the opportunity to ride and train, and I am sad to no longer have the equine connection I so love.”
The darts kept coming: “How can you complain about your life, look at all the riches you enjoy.” This dart was also removed, and my compassionate voice countered with: “I do have a wonderful life with many privileges. I am a very fortunate person. Nonetheless, I am sad to not enjoy the physical, emotional, mental challenges of dressage training.”
“Riding is self-indulgent – think of the other things you could do with your time to help others.” “Yes, any sport is almost by definition, self-indulgent – there is nothing wrong with doing what I enjoy.”
“You are tough – you made the right decision to not keep your horse – get over it.” Answer: “Yes, I am tough. But I am also human, emotional, and deeply connected to the horses and animals I have loved in my life. I am grieving my loss.”
One weekend found me pretty low. Feeling tones were helpful. “I feel yucky. This is unpleasant.” Labeling my experience made it real and therefore manageable. But, another dart then flew: “You should go to dance class, you know you’ll feel better after getting vigorous exercise.” Reply: “That is probably true. But I just don’t think I can rally the energy to get in the car. Please, just let me be, let me experience this low. I know it won’t last forever.”
I know that in other times in my life, I might try to sooth my pain with potato chips and red wine (and such soothing would be, at best, short lived!). Not this time. I took care of myself. I lowered expectations for productivity, ate good food, and rested. This self-care came naturally – it just seemed the right thing to do. I didn’t have to plan it, it just happened. My innate mindful care-giver took over.
My funk didn’t last forever, of course. Ten days later I was back to my energetic and enthusiastic self, looking forward to upcoming projects. But I learned from the experience. My strong reaction to losing my equine partner told me how passionate I am about the sport. As such, I’m considering ways to bring it back into my life. Awareness and extrication of my additional “darts” gave me space to experience the loss without making it worse. Feeling tones housed my reactions in understanding. Acknowledging my sadness made it just that. Another experience, however unpleasant.
"Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future.”
– Deepok Chopra