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  • Writer's pictureHelen Chorley

2 Arrows - Buddhism, meditation

“pain is inevitable but suffering is optional….” ~ Buddhist Proverb

I’ve been contemplating this and working on my interpretation of a great blog by American Buddhist for almost a year now…. But honestly I can’t say it better, so I’m sharing the original here instead, because “the best way to be original is to be yourself” (Paulo Coelho)

“I've been thinking about how relationships, mindfulness, and meditation work.

All of them seem to share a striking characteristic. When everyone is happy, they all seem to flow easily. But when someone is feeling a strong emotion - fear, anger, sorrow, jealousy - they all seem to get harder.

There is a classic Buddhist parable of the two arrows. In brief, the idea is that most people, when hurt, add to the hurt. If shot with an arrow, we spend a lot of effort focused on wondering why we got shot, how we didn't deserve that, how the person who shot the arrow is a jerk, what we are going to say when we get in front of him/her, etc. It's like being struck by a second arrow - the first one is physical and the second is mental. In contrast, if we are able to maintain our mindfulness and not spin off into a story about our pain, we only get struck by one arrow. (For the geeks, here is the original Sallatha Sutra).

I might even go further than this - once we start down the story road, we not only make ourselves feel worse (the second arrow), but then we are more likely to do something that makes the situation worse. This is a third arrow!

We need to take responsibility for our emotions. We need to stop thinking that something outside us will make everything better. All you can work with is yourself, and this is true even for recurring situations. If you have a difficult boss who makes your life difficult, it is unlikely that you can change your boss. You can, however, change your reactions, your work habits, or even your job.

If we look a little deeper into any interaction, we will notice that whenever someone does something to you, you are at the same time perceiving it. To quote Ethan Nichtern's riff on the classic Zen koan, "If a person is an ass and there's no one around to see it, is he still an ass?"

We expect that our perception and our point of view is accurate and that any other observer would agree with our perception. This is called the False Consensus Bias, where we assume that whatever we think/feel, most people would agree with. The classic study (Ross, Greene, & House, 1977) had people read stories that included a conflict and asked them which solution most people would pick, which one they themselves would pick, and what people who pick each of the two sides would be like. In general, people estimate that most people would pick the same choice they themselves would, and rated them more positively than people who would pick the other choice.

In truth, usually no one is the ass. We actually just have different perspectives, attention to different aspects, different goals, different motivations, and different approaches. But because we assume that everyone else must have the same perspective, goals and approaches, we then decide that anyone not following our script must be being difficult.

If we can begin to see that we are very changeable based on what we pay attention to, it may give us the space to pause before we shoot ourselves with the second arrow.

In comments (change links in Hootsuite pls)

Link to the parable is here:

Link to original blog here:

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