Earlier today we posted this story on Facebook, and we wanted to elaborate on it here (by the way, if you haven't already done so, please "Like" tad on Facebook - there are over 3 years worth of posts that you might find beneficial!):
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 mind and non-stop thoughts fuel this second arrow.
We get lost in these thoughts, and build a story around them - we make them our identity:
> "I'm a victim."
> "This bad thing happened to me."
> "I'm a loser."
> "I will never be happy because..."
Our thoughts come at us non-stop. If we don't become aware of what is going on in our compulsive minds, the suffering caused by the second arrow will be constant and pervasive.
But, with meditation and mindfulness, we can see thoughts for what they are: not permanent.
We can observe them as they come and go, like clouds in the sky. We can watch the emotions they create arise, and then - by NOT becoming attached to them - we can watch them subside. As we develop this awareness, we find that we don't become as upset/angry/defensive as we once did. We find that we react less and less to the stories and dialogue that the mind produces.
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! Meditation and mindfulness shows us that we don't have to be dominated by your thoughts.
Further reading: for more insight into the process from thoughts to actions, read "Do your thoughts control your destiny?" If you want to find out more about meditation and mindfulness, read "Meditation and mindfulness explained."
Meditation explained in 60 seconds (actually, it's closer to 40).
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