Thoughts About Thoughts

Photo by Michele Venne

Anyone who has read texts about particular schools of thought (religious, psychological, sociological, etc.) realize that they have to see/read ideas more than once before the ideas begin to stick. Then we often forget them until we again come across those ideas that once made sense.

This happened to me recently. I read a Buddhist story about how the pain we deal with as human beings is like being shot with two arrows. The first arrow is the actual pain: the car fender got dented, a friend is angry, we’ve gained ten pounds, etc. The second arrow is the emotion about the pain. This is sometimes called “optional misery”.

By accepting the way things are right now in this moment (the first arrow), we have the opportunity to dodge the second arrow (the misery we feel about the way things are in this moment, which cannot be changed). We backed out of the driveway and hit a trash can, denting the fender/bumper (the pain of the first arrow). We can rail and throw things and curse whoever left the trash can where it was when we ran into it. This is the second arrow we shoot at ourselves. Sometimes, we shoot a third arrow as well by calling everyone we know to share our story about our dented fender. This serves to lengthen the pain from the first arrow.

In the moment, we can’t do anything about the first arrow. The fender is dented. Okay, now what? Do we shoot the second and maybe the third arrow? Do we intensify the bleeding by causing another hole or two? Or can we remove the first arrow by, in this case, moving the trash can so no one else can back into it, and deciding if we’ll call the insurance company, fix it on our own, or leave the dent. In a short amount of time, the bleeding from that first arrow stops. No need to worry about hole number two and three, because we chose not to let fly those arrows. We sidestepped that “optional misery” and kept the pain to a minimum.

This leaves us more time to engage in pleasant (i.e. fun) activities. It’s difficult to enjoy the moment, to laugh or smile, to participate in leisure time, to step back from work and worry while we’re bleeding with multiple arrow wounds. How do we make room for fun? By dodging a few arrows.