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SOPHIA Series: The Second Arrow

SOPHIA Series: The Second Arrow

by Grace Ganel

Has something like this ever happened to you? You’re just getting home from work or school, and you’ve had a really long day. You’re tired and hungry. As you bustle around your home, setting down your things a little hard out of anger (at your boss, or your teacher, or your parent, or the dog, or yourself), you pull a glass out of the cupboard to get some water. You slam the glass down on the counter and it shatters, slicing your hand. Frustrated and defeated, you sink to the floor and cry.

OK so this is a pretty extreme scenario… but I remember doing something very like this when I was a teenager! That day was so painful for me, and much of the suffering I endured was avoidable because my behaviors made me feel worse.

Chinese medical theory and practice draws on Buddhist and Daoist thought. As we learn to move more mindfully through our emotions and our space, we effectively prevent and reverse disease processes from the Chinese medical frame of thought.

Buddhism teaches that suffering is an inevitable part of life. One analogy within the Buddhist tradition is the “Second Arrow” teaching. Sometimes, a figurative (hopefully not literal) arrow strikes, and causes you emotional and/or physical pain. This arrow cannot be avoided. There is a tendency among humans to “beat ourselves up,” wallow, or exacerbate our problems in the face of suffering, effectively firing a second “arrow” at ourselves. The teaching of the Second Arrow helps us to recognize that this additional bout of suffering, that which we inflict upon ourselves, is avoidable.

I have a practice now, to recognize when my bow is taut and I’m about to shoot myself in the foot, so to speak. By learning to be present to my body and mind as an observer, I have an opportunity to stop myself. (I am in practice with this, I am not perfect at this. I would say I am a beginner at this, and I likely always will be a beginner at this.)

You can adopt this practice, too! When you notice that anger, or fear, or shame, or some other emotion is present, say so. (Note this wording - “anger is present,” it’s not taking over, I don’t say “I am angry” because that’s incorrect. I am Grace, and anger is present.) In your mind, say to yourself, “oh, I see shame is present. Interesting.” Through small, 5 minute meditations a few times a week, you can learn to cultivate an observer. Rather than falling into emotional distress headfirst, you can acknowledge your emotion, express it, take any effective action that may be indicated by the emotion, and let go of the emotion before it leads you to slice open your hand and collapse into a puddle of self-loathing.

I have another practice I like to follow when notice I have already shot a second arrow at myself. This practice comes from Hawaiian healing tradition. This practice, called “ho’oponopono” in Hawaiian, is simple and beautiful. Whenever I realize I have been “shooting arrows,” allowing for suffering beyond that which is inevitable, I endeavor to pause, put my hand(s) over my heart, and silently tell myself, “I am sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you.” This practice teaches self-compassion, and interrupts the cycle of negative self-talk that so often does more harm than good.

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