Saturday, January 16, 2010

Avoiding The Arrows

Back on October 31, I published a blog entitled "Dodging the Second Arrow." It was based on the Parable of the Second Arrow as taught by the Buddha, which describes the way we often make situations much worse by adding anger or other destructive emotions to the event. In essence, it's like being shot with an arrow, and then shooting ourselves with a second arrow. 

The truth is that in most cases, we don't even need to experience the first arrow. If I come home in the evening and I am greeted by sink full of unwashed dishes, that is the situation. A lot of thoughts could arise from that, like, "Why does everyone think that I'm some sort of servant around here?" That might be the first arrow that gives rise to more negative thoughts, resentments, and anger. In other words, more arrows.

But is there a first arrow in any of these dishes? Not really. These dishes are not hurting me in any way. Do I have to get upset and angry with my kids for leaving them there? Not at all. I actually have a choice in how I respond. I could not do anything and leave them, I could go ahead and do them myself, or I could talk rationally to the kids about the responsibilities of living in a shared space.

We think we have no choice when it comes to our habitual reactions. The truth is that we always have choices, but when anger and ill-will get started, and the second and third and fourth arrows start flying, we can't think clearly enough to make those more effective choices. 

The next time you feel any kind of upset coming on because of a situation, stop for a moment. Ask yourself, "Is there a first arrow here?" The answer will probably be, "No." You will find immediately that the habitual tendency to act out unskillfully will simultaneously be seen clearly, and then drop away due to this awareness. The result will be less suffering, less wounding, and fewer scars.

From Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche:
Ultimately, happiness comes down to choosing between the discomfort of becoming aware of your mental afflictions, and the discomfort of being ruled by them.

(Adapted from Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom by Rick Hansen, Ph.D, with Richard Mendius, MD.)

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