Turning arrows into flowers


“What we call obstacles are really the way the world and our entire experience teach us where we are stuck.”

This quote is by one of my favourite Buddhist teachers Pema Chödrön. It’s from her incredible book When Things Fall Apart, which I highly recommend to anyone looking for wise words on how to meet difficulties in life.

These particular words encourage us to practice befriending what we see as an obstacle, instead of viewing it as the enemy. Pema Chödrön tells the story of how Buddha was sitting under a tree, on the night he was to attain enlightenment. While sitting there, he was attacked by the forces of Mara (illusion, desire, death and rebirth). The story goes that they shot swords and arrows at him, and because of his power of awareness, their weapons ended up turning into flowers.

She reminds us that we call obstacles, are really the way the world and our entire experience teach us where we’re stuck. What may appear to be an arrow or a sword, can turn into a flower, depending on our relationship with ourselves. The first step is being able to acknowledge and willing to meet whatever discomfort or pain that is arising. If we are not open to it, if we just push it away, it will be hard to find any teaching there, and to move through that place where we are stuck. Sometimes that is needed too, and the flower in that situation is just being aware of what and how we tend to push things away.

Mindfulness gives us awareness about when and in what ways we try to escape those difficult emotions (a natural thing we all do). It’s not something we should be hard on ourselves for, but instead see as very valuable information – it’s how arrows turn into flowers. Most importantly we will notice that we can fully meet all these experiences, which are a natural part of life. And that to be truly alive means to never really arrive. There will always be new arrows – but we learn that we can let life have its natural ebb and flow, and still rest in our presence and find wisdom there.