Buddhist Reflection: The Second Arrow


It always amazes me the amount of damage we human beings can cause when we, ourselves, are damaged. When describing our relationship with  difficult emotions Buddhist teachers tend to use the story of the second arrow.

The Buddha once asked a student, “If a person is struck by an arrow is it painful?” The student replied, “It is.” The Buddha then asked, “If the person is struck by a second arrow, is that even more painful?” The student replied again, “It is.” The Buddha then explained, “In life, we cannot always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. This second arrow is optional.”

The thing about that second arrow is that it is often pain. When we are hurt, we naturally want to project that pain onto others, those who have hurt us. The more we are hurt, the more pain we want to inflict. Yet no matter how much we project our pain, it does not lessen it. Oftentimes it is amplified. I say this because I am a firm believer that you get back the type of energy you put out into the universe. If you are constantly throwing out the pain you receive what results in a never-ending cycle of suffering.

I understand that it is extremely difficult to deal with painful emotions. The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was sit on my cushion and meditate during the time that I was going through my break-up. There was a period where I was projecting my experience, which only made things worse. It got to a point where I was stuck in that negative space and could not heal. I realized that I had to accept the hurt I was feeling, embrace it in fact, and simply deal with it. The pain was a part of my experience. I owned it but I didn’t allow it to define who I was. I stopped feeling like I had to react to it. After I realized this things eased up. The pain is still not gone but it no longer controls my actions. My new understanding of this offers me  much clarity as to why some people engage in certain types of negative behavior. It also helps me to understand better the people I’ve been struggling with, and to respond to their actions with patience and kindness.

To go through life not expecting to be struck by arrows is naive. We are going to be hurt a thousand times over. This is something we cannot control. However what we can control is our reaction to the things done to us. The second arrow is always optional.


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