Last week we addressed the first arrow, which is a symbol for the initial pain caused by loss, chaos and impermanence. The first arrow strikes each one of us at different moments along the way.
How do you respond to living in times of great change and difficulty? How do you find your footing when the world seems to be spinning out of control?
This is the second part of a three part series, based on a Buddhist story using arrows as a metaphor. Today I will talk about the second arrow.
II. The second arrow
How do you react when things fall apart?
The second arrow is more painful than the first one, because our minds torture us with reactions against the painful situation. We are beset with what ifs, and why this and why me. Whatever it is, we want it to stop or go away or be different. Our experience of the first arrow is compounded further by blame of oneself or someone or something else.
Our resistance to pain can take many forms, and often goes unnoticed. We become unaware of how aversion works against us. Or, when we do notice our fear, anger or impatience in response to a given situation, we berate ourselves for being imperfect, for being insecure, tired, angry or fearful. The second arrow becomes a flame of blame. This behavior is destructive, and blocks our movement toward the door that opens with pain.
The second arrow, the added pain, is what the poet Christian Wiman called “a will against a wound”. The rejection of what happens is in contrast to acceptance. The acceptance I am speaking of has nothing to do with agreeing with what is, or not taking action.
It has everything to do with pausing, with listening, and paying attention– until the next step you take has inner authority, power and conviction.
None of us, no matter how “lucky” we are, escape the first arrow. This is what the Buddhists refer to as “necessary suffering”. This anguish, which seems utterly unique to the sufferer, has existed in all times, in all cultures, in some form, throughout the thousands of years of human life on earth. The wisdom to know how to navigate the human dilemma is embedded in the old stories, and transmitted in metaphor.
The pain from the second arrow– when we push against circumstance– is “unnecessary suffering” that can be released by opening to what arises.
Here is a poem that speaks to pausing in your list of things to do, and what can arise from making the choice to create a space apart from the cultural noise, from duty and producing.
Down near the bottom
of the crossed-out list
of things you have to do today,
between “green thread”
and “broccoli” you find
that you have penciled “sunlight.”
Resting on the page, the word
is as beautiful, it touches you
as if you had a friend
and sunlight were a present
he had sent you from some place distant
as this morning — to cheer you up,
and to remind you that,
among your duties, pleasure
is a thing,
that also needs accomplishing
Do you remember?
that time and light are kinds
of love, and love
is no less practical
than a coffee grinder
or a safe spare tire?
Tomorrow you may be utterly
without a clue
but today you get a telegram,
from the heart in exile
proclaiming that the kingdom
the king and queen alive,
still speaking to their children,
–to any one among them
who can find the time,
to sit out in the sun and listen.
The Word by Tony Hoagland (1992)
Tomorrow you may be utterly without a clue, but today you get a telegram from the heart in exile…..
Next week I will talk about the “third arrow”: taking aim. I have added this arrow to the Buddhist story as the path of all makers.
What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you.