The Book of Ichigo Ichie - The Second Arrow

By The Boy Who Procrastinates - November 14, 2020

With the coronavirus pandemic rapidly sweeping across the globe, it has extracted a heavy toll on livelihoods, economies and mental health.

We are all struggling, to certain degree to adjust to the new normal as the outbreak has upended our way of life, in some ways forever. 

In these dark times, we may seek psychological guidance to cope with stresses and anxieties we face in everyday life.

Following the previous discussion on making the most of every moment, we will be looking into Buddhist teaching of second arrow, as introduced in The Book of Ichigo Ichie, to help us navigate through this maelstrom of pain, suffering and strain.

Second Arrow 

The parable of the second arrow goes as follows: 

The Buddha once asked a student, "If a person is walking through the forest and is shot by an arrow, is it painful?" 

"Of course!" was the reply of the student. 

The Buddha then went on, "And if he is struck by a second arrow, is that even more painful?"

"Of course, much more than the first," the student acknowledged. 

In Buddhist teachings, the first arrow signifies the unfortunate circumstances that strike you unexpectedly in life. Retrenchment, ill health, death of loved one, failing relationship and financial loss are some examples of such events. 

The second arrow represents our reaction to the unpleasant events that we have experienced. Allowing oneself to be ensnared in the web of suffering or to wallow in self-pity are some of the common emotional responses. However, these are often unnecessary wounds that we choose to inflict on our souls. 

In life, the first arrow is often unavoidable and we usually exert no control over it. But we are the ones who shoot the second arrow upon ourselves. It can take the form of self-blame that we dwell upon, believing that we fall short of expectations. It is also the depression and anxiety associated with excessive rumination of stressful life events. 

In the world of investment, trying to consistently profit from the stock market can be a challenging and frustrating endeavor, even for the most astute investors. Financial losses stemmed from stock market declines inescapably form a part of one's investment journey.

Frankly, I am oftentimes responsible for releasing the second arrow too. After incurring investment losses, I would harp on it and brood over my weakness and failure. It may occasionally spiral into an endless whirlpool of questions and doubts which can be counterproductive and overwhelming.

Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.                                                                                                - Buddha

Avoiding the Second Arrow 

While the first arrow is unpreventable, what we can do is to avoid shooting the second arrow and feeding the pain of the initial impact.

The book has proposed some strategies which we can apply from firing the second arrow of self-recrimination and anxiety that poison our well-being.

We have to recognize the first arrow and be aware of the temporary nature of pain. Wounds do not bleed forever unless we are determined to prolong their echo. If we limit ourselves to simply acknowledging the pain and not get caught up in anxiety and self-judgment, the pain will fade gradually and we will be liberated from much unnecessary suffering.

As Leo Tolstoy has put it, all the variety, all the charm, all the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow. There is no joy without hardship, no pleasure without pain. And it is in the dichotomy that we can appreciate the beauty in the ebbs and flows of everyday life.

Following the acceptance of the first arrow, we have to catch our impulse to add another arrow. While the amplification of pain and suffering through self-blame and anxieties may seem to come upon naturally after the occurrence of the painful event, we should bear in mind that it is self-inflicted and that we all have our second arrow of choice. 

With the awareness of this option, we should be reminded that it is a futile state of mind. The past cannot be altered nor can the future be accurately predicted. There is only what we can do right now to learn from our experience and to keep moving.

The concept is elegantly encapsulated in the Serenity Prayer in which we need to have the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and wisdom to know the difference.

Instead of throwing good energy away condemning yourself or obsessing over what catastrophes might be lurking around the corner, you can simply be present with the real suffering that is right in front of you, what is happening right now. Mindfulness is recognizing what is there in the present moment. Suffering is there, yes; but what is also there is that you are still alive. Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.                                                                                                                                        - Thich Nhat Hanh

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Disclaimer: Kindly note that this is not a sponsored post. The author is in no way affiliated with the publisher/author and does not receive any form of remuneration for this post. The Boy who Procrastinates has compiled the information for his own reference, with the hope that it will benefit others as well.

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