The second arrow

If you’ve ever listened to Buddhist teacher Tara Brach, you’ve likely heard her discuss the Buddha’s story of the second arrow.

“If you get struck by an arrow, do you then shoot another arrow into yourself?”

If you’re me, the answer is yes, over and over and over again. It's just how I roll. 

The first arrow is when something happens - we hit the snooze button for 30 minutes instead of 10 (me, this morning), we overeat at a party when we swore we wouldn’t, we have five drinks instead of two, when someone treats us in a way that feels disrespectful. Brach describes the first arrow as the natural experiences that arise from the human animal that we are: fear, aggression, greed, craving. 

But the second arrow is our reaction to what happens. In the Buddhist teaching we are reminded that with the second arrow comes choice. 

A few weeks ago I wrote a post talking about the phrase “I can’t get out of my own way.” The second part of that expression might be “and I can’t forgive myself for that.” I have talked openly about my struggles with depression - which is a first arrow for me. I'm not sure where or why I experience depression, but it's a complicated mix of genetics and life experience. So often the things we hate about ourselves are shaped by a plethora of forces - genetics - brain chemistry - experience - but as Brach reminds us, we didn’t choose any of this. 

I didn't choose depression. In fact, I hate the way my depression makes me feel. Lazy, unproductive, sad, unfocused. I hate it. That hate is my second arrow. Hate is my reaction to how I feel. And it's often self-hate.

The fitness industry is as much about human behavior as the science of periodization, fat loss, and hypertrophy. And nowhere have I seen more self-blame and self-flagellation than in fitness. We set goals, for getting to the gym, for changing our eating habits, for more self-care, and those goals can often become clouded by those first arrows. 

Do you know there is even research out there suggesting that we are genetically predisposed to be morning people or night people? I didn't. Don't worry - I'm looking into it and will tell you when I find more information. But I know many people who just can't talk themselves into a morning workout and then hate themselves for not going. 

I’m not saying we don’t need some accountability. But what else can we make room for if we stop the pattern of self-blame? If we replace the phrases “I suck at life, I suck at adulting, if I was auditioning for the part of a grown up in a play I wouldn’t get the part”  - without this constant inner monologue of hate, what else might we make room for? 

If you create the right space, you never know, Morgan Freeman might just be narrating your life in your head. I mean, hey, it could happen.  

There are books dedicated to this tricky and complicated subject, so it’s way too much to do justice to in a short blog post. 

But as with all things, change begins with awareness. We cannot control the action - but we can control the reaction.