Day 39 - The Second Arrow
Robin Boudette, Ph.D.
Robin is a psychologist in Counseling and Psychological Services at Princeton University, and has worked 14 years with students. She is the former Director of the University Medical Center at Princeton Eating Disorders Program, and founder of the Mind-Body Health Services Team.
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, isn’t 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. And with this second arrow comes the possibility of choice.
Our own thoughts are often the first arrow. As they rise into consciousness, they instantly create emotions, feelings and automatic mental reactions. These thoughts aren’t real - they’re only temporary mental phenomena, yet we unconsciously treat them as if they were wholly tangible and true. This unquestioned belief becomes the second arrow, that creates an enormous amount of avoidable suffering.
Bad things will happen, mistakes will be made, we will feel pain. But we don’t have to inflict more pain by unskillfully shooting ourselves again with follow-on feelings of guilt, shame, recrimination or self-blame. Being able to consciously consider and effectively manage our thoughts is an important element of self-awareness.