White Arrows

In a workshop several years ago, a breakthrough experience was offered.

In choosing to participate, an attendee would set the steel tip of a cedar target arrow against the front of the throat. With the tail of the arrow held firm, he or she would press forward until the arrow broke.

I know. You’re probably thinking “Whaaaaaaaat? Why would anyone want to do that?” But spirits were high, the room was charged and, one-by-one, people got up to join in. With arrows at their throats, some stepped forward without hesitation and returned to their seats with pieces of arrows.

Others, though they intensely wanted to break their arrows, became stuck, both mentally and physically. Strong on desire and willpower, but lacking enough willingness, they ultimately sat down again empty-handed.

In the pile of arrows they chose from were red ones, yellow ones, white ones and blue ones. Suddenly, someone noticed that three of the four people who had been unsuccessful at breaking their arrows had chosen white ones. “It’s the white arrows!” he called out. “Don’t pick the white arrows. They’re too hard!”

In response, the facilitator pointed out that the colors were merely ornamental. He explained that the manufacturer maintained consistency through careful quality control. That’s important in archery. And, he noted, four other participants had already broken white arrows that evening with relative ease.

These arguments didn’t sway the opinions of some in the room. The white arrows were harder, they had decided, and that was that.

The arrow process demonstrates how ideas, given meaning, can hold us immobilized in their grip. Some ideas rob our power, undermining our ability to choose and act, and leave us struggling or frustrated… or worse. Often, desire and willpower alone are insufficient to resolve them. The willingness to go forward is the key to unlocking our stuckness. It’s willingness that throws off the chains that bind us. It’s willingness that sets us free and allows us to progress.

Ideas effectively become reality. Like those arrows, many of the issues that seem to confront us in life become powerful because of the decisions we’ve made about them. In our lives, we’ve pushed against some of them and given up. For others, we never even got that far.

You have some white arrows. So do I. So does my neighbor, Bob.

Look around. What are your white arrows and how do they hold you back?

Examine them honestly and ask “How could I change my beliefs and reclaim my power to move forward undeterred?”