In Buddhist teachings there is this concept called “the second arrow”. You may not have heard this term before but you have experienced it no doubt. The second arrow refers to our reaction to any suffering in our life. Life can be unbelievably beautiful but it is also unpredictable and painful at times. Often we have no control over “the first arrow” – we catch the flu, our lover leaves us, we lose a job, our body ages and becomes ill. As if these were not painful enough, we often, unskillfully, add judgement, blame or dismissal: the second arrow. The second arrow is usually thought based. Our mind goes on a tailspin, we lose perspective and our entire life boils down to this one event.
Here is an everyday example of the second arrow. Just yesterday I spent no less than three and a half hours working on a new playlist for my yoga classes this week. While I was making the playlist I felt excited and energized about the new atmosphere this would provide. When it came time to transfer the music from my computer to my smartphone, something wasn’t right. The music would not transfer and my playlist would not show up. I only had 20 minutes left to figure this out before I had to go teach and this (tiny, non-problem) ISSUE was driving me MAD! I got panicked and frustrated so I called my husband, the tech genius, at work to ask for his help. He tried but could not help me in the moment and I felt upset that he hadn’t dropped everything for me, causing a little rift between us for the moment. Then, admitting defeat, I went back over my day and recounted how much time I had wasted when I could have been transferring the music. I definitely should not have taken that really amazing walk in the sun with my friend, it would have given me more time to make this iPhone work! Then as my/your mind does, I went into ” I am a bad yoga teacher” and now my class will be boring and uninspiring because of the lack of music. You see how silly all of this is, yes? And all of these second arrows were shot within a matter of seconds. That is how it happens. If we are not mindful and present, we do not even know we are doing this. So here is what I did, and what I do when I find myself shooting second arrows:
STOP THE MADNESS. Move out of the space you are in to another space. Change rooms, switch park benches, take a step to the left and be still and quiet for a moment. Use the RAIN acronym to bring yourself back into presence.
Recognize that you are in a “second arrow” moment. There are key signs in my body/mind that I am about to go there or am already there. My breath is usually shorter, everything feels urgent, suddenly I am doing a lot of blaming. Look for your own signs to tip you off so you can Recognize when you are going there.
Accept your situation, as it is, for the moment. I was never going to have music for my class that day. Accepting that would have put me in a better position to prepare. Acknowledge your current situation and try to be present for a moment.
This one can be difficult, but it makes all the difference. Explore what is happening with curiosity and interest. When doing this, try to feel into the current flavor and quality of your experience and not psychoanalyze yourself based on your past.
You can have a thought and not be that thought. You can have an experience and not be that experience. We all know that, but in the moment we often connect the dots in a way that attaches our entire being to this one dilemma. Because I do not have music to play today, I am a bad yoga teacher incapable of helping people. Or, because I forgot to bring cupcakes to school, I am a bad mother who lets her child down. We so easily go there. There is a lot of spaciousness and freedom when we learn to take a step back from being our thoughts and experiences.
My teacher refers to this process as making space for “the one who knows”. The one who knows is you. It is just the version of you who remains present and mindful and has perspective no matter what you are experiencing in the moment. Next time you are troubled try this mini-meditation:
Use RAIN to explore what you are feeling. Then imagine yourself (your body/mind image) split into two. Now there are two of you. The one who is experiencing pain, panic, anxiety, depression and the one who has perspective. The one who can softly remind you to take a deep breath. The one that reminds you another breath is another moment, making space for a new experience.
Read more from Ashley on her website ashleywestroberts.com