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The Second Arrow

Updated: Jan 13, 2023


December 23, 2022


Today’s forecast was stormy, and it manifested as gusty winds and intense rain. I awoke to the realization that I had forgotten to set my alarm clock and my daughter had fifteen minutes to get ready before the school bus arrived. I scrambled to check off all the boxes, lunch packed, breakfast, dressed, and groomed. Meanwhile, my son woke up and it was another one of those mornings post-flu and in the heat of the terrible two’s tantrums. On top of it all, it was the day before Christmas eve. So many expectations and pressures within the mainstream culture. It was a day where it felt like I was being propelled by a tsunami or somehow hurled around in the eye of the tornado.

In some Buddhist traditions there is reference to a concept of a second arrow being shot. The first arrow that hits us is the original suffering or reaction to pain that is experienced. The second arrow is when we resist this experience and layer on self-judgment, blame, or aversion. This is a strong and common pattern for many of us. There can be a tendency to rush to push away the pain or believe that it’s unjustified. Our minds can jump to thoughts such as, I’m over-reacting, surely other people don’t get this riled up, what about the families with starving kids in Africa? Sometimes we can even think that we are the only ones in the world who could be going through this experience.

Fortunately, there is a kind of anti-dote or a variety of ways to work with and heal the original sources of pain and difficulty as well as our reactions to them. Within the world of psychotherapy, we sometimes call the stimulus to our strong emotional reactions as triggers. One of the most powerful steps is to cultivate a sense of awareness, where we start to recognize these patterns and practice catching ourselves going down this slippery slope. We may find ourselves crashing down the snowy slope, but on the way down, we may have the realization sooner or later that we are losing balance. Just like training our physical body and building muscles, we need to practice the ability to recognize what’s happening to our body, mind, and emotions in reaction to certain situations.

Psychotherapy and mindfulness are two powerful modalities to help foster these capabilities. In my practice as a psychotherapist, I try to incorporate mindfulness-based elements into my work with clients. I can say that there is great potential to gain insight and to create new patterns, based on my own dedication to these modalities over the years. Another gem that I have discovered and aspire to share with my clients is the practice of self-compassion. If we can lean into the softness of care and tenderness towards ourselves, we can offer a beautiful gift to ourselves. This can also serve as a benefit to the people that we interact with in our daily lives. It is an honor for me to witness my clients find a gentleness towards themselves as well as a strength that comes forth when they are true and respectful towards themselves.



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