Turn Your Attention to the Arrow in Your Heart
If someone comes along and shoots an arrow into your heart, it’s fruitless to stand there and yell at the person. It would be much better to turn your attention to the fact that there’s an arrow in your heart and relate to the wound.
Human nature is a curious and often paradoxical thing. We often act with compassion toward others who are suffering but never consider doing the same for ourselves. We have a compassion double standard. If we saw someone bleeding, we would jump into action to tend to the person’s wound right away. We would place all our heartfelt and focused attention on the wounded instead of yelling at the person who caused the wound. We would stay right there with them and take care of the most important thing — the wound and the hurt.
In my early twenties I was driving home around two in the morning from a job I had as a line cook at a busy restaurant. As I drove up the Post Road in Fairfield, Connecticut, I saw a police car pulled over behind another car and a man on top of the police officer beating him with, what turned out to be, the policeman’s own baton.
I turned my car around right after I passed the scene and got out and ran back toward them (I know, I know … crazy, but that’s another post!).
The police officer’s head was badly bleeding, and someone else who had also pulled over had wrestled the guy (who was drunk), off of the cop and had him pinned down. I was yelling for someone to call 911 while ripping my shirt over my head and putting it over the cop’s bleeding skull. I didn’t think about the fact that I was in my bra on the side of the road in the dark with a bleeding cop and a crazy man and the danger of the situation. I simply was attending to the cop’s wound. I wasn’t thinking about who did this at all.
It would be so wonderful that if the next time we felt hurt by the world, or by someone else, we focused on the arrow that landed in our heart. Instead of spending time and energy telling that person about our boundaries and what’s acceptable and how they should communicate better, and all the things we think they should do so that we can feel right and better, we could turn our gaze back to our own wounded heart, lingering there with great kindness and gentleness for however long it took to feel better.
For example, you’re following your partner on a bike ride to the store in Brooklyn. The streets are busy. You don’t know where you’re going. Suddenly there are a million cars and last you saw her she was weaving in and out of traffic. You’ve lost sight of her. You feel left behind. She knows you don’t know where you’re going. You get very angry and pull over to the sidewalk and start texting her. Where the F are you?! When you find your way back to each other, the anger has set in, and you let loose verbally on her about being left, her inconsideration, her selfishness. And the rest of the day is ruined.
Or, you could tend to the arrow in your heart. When you lose sight of her and are aware of your upset, you stop and take a breath and realize that you are actually afraid. You feel shaky, vulnerable, embarrassed, and abandoned. You stay with these feelings right there on the sidewalk. You let yourself cry as a way to let the feelings come up and out in a genuine way. When your partner comes back and finds you, you describe how you were left behind as a child and how very painful that was. You flood your own heart with care as if you are wrapping your arms around a lost child.
One of the things that keeps our attention on others when we are hurt is that we often don’t fully understand the role that the past plays in the present.
The past is rarely in the past. The examination, healing and compassionate understanding of the past is, in my opinion, perhaps the single most powerful thing a human being can do with their life.
Understanding our past and healing our wounds brings us a freedom in the present that is unparalleled. People who have done this work are some of the most available, deep and non-reactive people I have met. They are fully available to be in the present because the past has no grip on them.
By looking at our past and doing our healing work, we not only free ourselves, but we free others from our entrapping projections onto them. We no longer demand that they change in order for us to feel better.
Yes, we can try to surround ourselves with people who are genuine and can look at themselves and aren’t always passing the buck. But it’s not always totally possible, and the point is not to sanitize our lives anyway. The point is to keep tending to what hurts us until it’s healed.
We are naturally caring. We rush to help others in catastrophic events. Yet when it comes to our own emotional wounds, we often get confused about what to do.
Here are three simple tips that have helped me when I find an arrow in my heart:
- Pause and take several breaths. Turn inside.
- Flood your heart with the warmth and care that you feel for a small puppy or of a loving mother for her child.
- Try to make a connection to your past and where you’ve been hurt before.
By tending to the arrow in our own hearts, we engage pain directly and can minimize further suffering.
Bindu Wiles has been a practicing Buddhist for 20 years. She has her BFA in photography and her MFA in creative nonfiction. Bindu offers life coaching and online courses, and she is accepting registration for The Photo Essay Project.