The Buddha once asked a student,”if a person is hit with an arrow, does it hurt?”
“Yes”, the student replied.
“And if the person is hit with a second arrow, does it hurt even more?” the Buddha asked?
“Yes,” the student responded.
In life, the first arrow is an event or an experience that we have no control over. It could be a physical sensation such as a wound, or a toothache, a headache, or labor contractions. The first arrow might also be an experience or an event, such as the onset of a sudden illness, the loss of a job, a failed exam, a car accident, or something else over which we have no control. The second arrow is all of our thoughts and emotions about the initial event or experience. What do we tell ourselves about what is happening, or about the sensations and emotions which arise from it? The story we create about the first arrow, can become the shooting of the second arrow, causing an increase in the pain and suffering we were already experiencing, and doing so by way of our hand releasing the arrow from the bow. What if instead of shooting the second arrow, we learned to accept the first arrow for what it actually is, and to sit with the experience, without allowing our Story Telling Mind to take off in flight, creating future imagined scenarios about it? Rather than speculating on all the negative ways the first arrow might potentially affect us in the future ( but then again, it very well might not) which only serves to intensify the pain of the first arrow, what if we chose not to shoot the second arrow stories at all?
After waiting nine long months, the day finally arrives when labor begins, accompanied by mild crampiness, or short moments of tightening sensations which are intermittent and far apart. Over the course of our labor, contractions gradually come closer together, last a bit longer, and the tightening and opening sensations intensify. Our job is to learn to surrender to the wisdom of our body, allowing it to do what it was created for and knows how to do, and to get our overthinking, Story Telling Mind out of the way, so our body can do the work of bringing our baby forth into our loving, welcoming arms. The path through a joyous and peaceful birth is one of opening and entering fully in, allowing our labor to unfold naturally with a welcoming spirit and presence, not with an agenda of control or resistance, which will only impede our labor. So often though, as labor progresses, I see so many women who begin anticipating the next contraction with great fear, anxiety, and dread. Their shoulders are up around their ears, their hands are clenched, their brow furrowed, jaw tense, and everything in their being is already saying, OH NO HERE IT COMES, before they even feel the next contraction beginning. Before it even arrives, they have told themselves a story about it, and have braced their entire being to resist it. This story serves to prime the second arrow so that when the first arrow, the contraction, actually does arrive, it is accompanied by a greatly increased sense of pain and suffering. Once a laboring woman tells herself a story of resistance, of fear, of dread, of the future impending unbearable onslaught and injury which she predicts will arrive with her next contraction, ( and often she tells herself, with all future contraction which are yet to come), she primes the second arrow. With her own hand she releases and lets fly the second arrow from her bow, and her processor brain then responds to the story of an incoming attack, and a need to defend itself. The laboring mama has told her brain that it needs to ready her body for a dangerous assault, and so it obeys by releasing fight or flight hormones to protect against the coming attack. Adrenalines and corticosteroids go coursing through their system, muscles stiffen, blood and oxygen is hunted away from organs, including the uterus, in order to offer more power to the extremities, which may need to fight off an attacker, or to run away. The heart rate increases, blood pressure increases, the flow of oxytocin which causes regular, consistent, effective contractions, slows and stops. She has just told her body that this is not a safe place for she or her baby to be, and it is not safe for her baby to be born, so her body decides not to give birth, which would endanger her baby. Labor can even stop or stall altogether, and even if it keeps going, the perpendicular fibers of the cervix continue to try to contract, while the circular fibers clamp down around them, causing contractions to be much more painful, and much less effective. The second arrow story, which in oracular fashion, has divined a future which may never even arrive, has caused labor to be more painful, possibly dysfunctional, and probally to last longer as well. By giving up control to her anxious Story Telling Mind, rather than taking control of her mind for herself, the laboring mom has shot the second arrow which increases pain and suffering for herself, and for her unborn child as well. All the stress hormones being released in response to the scary stories she has chosen to attach to, even adding to their fearful storyline, go straight through her blood stream, through the placenta and umbilical cord, and reach her baby as well. If a laboring mother is receiving fetal monitoring at this point, you can look at the screen and see the effect on the baby, as evidenced by her baby’s heart rate response. During pregnancy and labor, mother and child are as two flowers on one branch. Whatever nourishment the tree takes in, be it good or ill, every blossom on the branch takes in as well.
What would happen if the laboring mother chose not to listen to Story Telling Mind or to shoot the second arrow? What if she took a few deep breaths, all the way into her belly and all the way out again. What if with each out breath she allowed her brow to unfurrow, her jaw to unclench, her arms and hands to soften, her shoulders to drop down and back, and her mind to simply rest. What if she let go and just felt the sensations of the fullness of her in breath, and the long steady slow release of her outbreath? What if each time she breathed out she just allowed her head to rest easy on her neck, her belly to soften, felt herself grounded safely where she stood or sat. What if she felt her feet on the ground, noticed her body sitting on the bed, or the sensation of her hips contacting the chair? And what if she softened her mind as well, and let go of stories about potential future calamity, and instead just embraced the feeling of right here, right now, and rested in that? What if she noticed Story Telling Mind dancing around behind her, trying frantically to get her to engage, and to add to his storyline of potential future disaster or increased pain, suffering, or failure, and simply bowed to him acknowledging his presence, and then let go? What if she just nodded her knowledge that he was there, and then closed her eyes, rested in her present moment in breath, and her right here, right now out breath, and did not even watch Story Telling Mind’s silly dance of impending doom? What if she just simply chose to lay down the second arrows of fear, worry, anxiety, and imperatives of what she must do, and instead she closed her eyes and allowed every ounce of her being to just embrace a fully mindful, present moment peace, and allowed that peace to be her complete reality?
When mothers make the choice for here and now, present moment peace, rather than Story Telling Mind second arrow launching, their body relaxes, their mind relaxes, their processor brains says, “ahhhh, we are safe and life is good”, and it releases corresponding hormones and neuro chemicals, such as natural painkillers and feel good chemicals, endorphins, serotonins, and increased oxytocin, the hormone of love.
What if the laboring woman could just let her mind get into a space where she was when her baby was created? What if she could put herself in that same space of peace, safety, total and complete presence, letting go of anything other than reveling in the sensations of union with the one she so loves and desires, a space of bliss where she is so wrapped up in the moment, and in her love, that nothing else even exists outside of the two of them? What if during labor she could find such a space with the fruit of their love, she and her precious soon to be born child so fully one, so completely enraptured in the miraculous moments leading to his arrival? In that space, where the entire world and all thoughts of anything other than love do not exist, that space where she, in deliriously joyous abandon, surrenders to and welcomes her beloved with every ounce of her being, holding him close with body, mind, and spirit, where she says says YES, and allows the fullness of love to wash over and through her, something miraculous is created. Her body responds to that total and complete loving abandon by releasing not second arrows of fight or flight constriction, resistance, tightening, and pain, but oxytocin arrows of blissful orgasm, opening, and full and complete acceptance, utter and total exhilaration, ecstasy, rapture, euphoria, and peace.
Into which space do you want to your baby to arrive?
You are the one who decides,the one who chooses which arrows you will add to your birth quiver, arrows of control, fear, and resistance, or arrows of welcome, surrender, and love. In the exact same way your body, mind, heart, and soul let go to your beloved during the moment of conception, creating a miracle of new life , when you choose to surrender and let go during labor, the fruit of that love is released to come forth into life. All the messages you send from your thoughts and emotions, to your processor brain, which result in second arrow hormones of fear, constriction and pain, or arrows of peace, surrender, and welcoming hormones, your baby also feels the effects of, as those choices are received through the union of mother and baby via the placenta and umbilical cord. What messages do you want to give your baby at the moment of his birth? Messages of fear, anxiety, and o the world as an unsafe place that he should not come forth into, messages of your resisting his arrival? Or messages of the world as a wondrous place, your arms as waiting in loving welcome, and your mind and body letting go in complete, present moment surrender , saying yes, and allowing him to come?
The choice of which arrows you prime is all yours.