Earlier today we posted a story on Facebook, and we wanted to elaborate here.
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Here is the story:
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. The second arrow is optional.”
To elaborate, the Buddha was describing different types of suffering.
The first arrow affects all of us by virtue of the fact that we are born. If you are reading this, it is safe to say you were born. You will experience pain in your life, and you will eventually die.
This type of suffering is unavoidable.
We can have a good attitude about it, and we can make peace with it. But, we cannot avoid it. We all have a body that - if we are fortunate - will take us to old age. However, with growing old comes illness, disease, pain, and general "wearing out."
And ultimately, of course, death.
The second arrow the Buddha discusses is describing another type of suffering. This suffering results from our ego, and how we view the world around us. Our compulsive minds and non-stop thoughts fuel this second arrow.
We get lost in these thoughts, and we build a story around them - we make them our identity:
If we don't become aware of what's happening in our minds, the suffering caused by the second arrow will be constant and pervasive.
But, with mindfulness and meditation, we can see thoughts for what they are: not permanent.
We can notice them as they come and go, like clouds in the sky. We can watch the emotions, urges, and stories they create arise, and we can watch them subside. In doing so, we learn not to get caught up in (or attached to) any of it.
As we develop awareness, we find that we don't become as upset, angry, or defensive as we once did. We find that we react less and less to the "mind-made" drama.
So, while the first arrow is simply the nature of reality, the second arrow is our own creation. But, we can be liberated from it!
Mindfulness and meditation show us that we don't have to follow our minds wherever they lead.
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