In a healthy response to pain and fear, we establish awareness before it becomes anger. We can train ourselves to notice the gap between the moments of sense experience and the subsequent response. Because of the particle-like nature of consciousness, we can enter the space between instinct and action, between impulse and reaction. To do so we must learn to tolerate our pain and fear. This is not easy. As James Baldwin put it, “Most people discover that when hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with their own pain.”
That’s why we start by paying attention to small things, small pains and disappointments.
We must learn the difference between reaction and response. When we’re in a hurry and the toast burns, we can react by fuming or hitting the counter, or we can feel our frustration and put in another piece of bread. When someone cuts us off in traffic, we can angrily retaliate by racing up to them shouting, trying to get back at them, or we can breathe and let it go. When we are criticized, when we are betrayed, we don’t have to reinforce the pain of the situation by adding to the pain with our reaction.
It’s like two arrows, the Buddha said. The first arrow is the initial event itself, the painful experience. It has happened; we cannot avoid it. The second arrow is the one we shoot into ourselves. This arrow is optional. We can add to the initial pain a contracted, angry, rigid, frightened state of mind. Or we can learn to experience the same painful event with less identification and aversion, with a more relaxed and compassionate heart ~ Jack Kornfield