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Two Arrows

Updated: Jan 15, 2022

I have learned many things from my Buddhist friends and reading and listening to Buddhist teachers, but perhaps my favorite so far is the teaching of the two arrows.

As I would put it, the teaching is that life shoots an arrow in our heart. Ordinary life holds painful experiences---losses, illnesses, betrayals, accidents, warfare---painful circumstances. That’s the first arrow.

But then, we humans tend to resist that pain by telling ourselves that something’s wrong with the situation, or that something’s wrong with us. We label and judge ourselves, saying things like:

“I shouldn’t feel this way.”

“I don't know why I am crying, I know my deceased loved one is with God.”

“I don't know why it still hurts that my marriage came to an end.”

This is the second arrow we shoot into our own heart. We wound ourselves and multiply our own suffering, when we resist the painful experience, especially by telling ourselves it shouldn’t hurt.

The first arrow (pain) is universal. The second arrow (suffering) is optional. We don't have to treat ourselves this way. So the encouragement is to notice when we are resisting, labeling, judging---and drop the second arrow. Drop that storyline that things ought to have been easier, that we deserved something better, that there must be something wrong with us, or that we messed something up.

In this fresh, free space, we can open ourselves to the reality of the pain, the loss that is actually happening. In this fresh, free space, we can open ourselves to the healing presence of God in contemplation and community.

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