“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” ― Lao Tzu
Over the last month, several events have conspired together to leave me feeling helpless and lacking control. These included a mini cash flow crisis at my company and being disappointed by a friend. At first, I was left dejected and reacted badly in both instances.
However, after much reflection and reading some Buddhist philosophy, I realized that I was responding from a place of non-acceptance.
I was wishing that I’d get some magical injection of cash into the company that would save the day and that the person who’d hurt me would stop being who they’ve always been.
The Buddhist Metaphor of the 2nd Arrow
“An elegant Buddhist parable teaches not to let the arrow hit you twice. The first arrow — be it a negative thought, feeling, event, or circumstance — you can’t always control. But you can control the second arrow, or your reaction to the first one. Often, this reaction is one of denial, suppression, judgment, resistance, or impulsive action — all of which tend to create more, not less, difficulty and distress. The Buddha taught that it is this, the second arrow, that hurts worse, and it is also the second arrow that prevents you from doing anything wise about the first one. The idea of the second arrow runs deep in Buddhist teachings. The legend goes that on the eve of his awakening, the Buddha was assaulted by the god Mara, who represents fear, craving, suffering, anger, delusion, and a host of other maladies. Throughout the night, Mara levied upon the Buddha storms, armies, and demons. He assaulted the Buddha with arrows of greed, hatred, jealousy, and delusion. Yet instead of resisting these arrows, the Buddha met each one with a present, tender, and spacious awareness. As he did, the arrows were transformed into flowers. Over time, the petals piled up into a mound, and the Buddha became increasingly calm and clear. Mara kept on assaulting the Buddha, and the Buddha kept on responding with acceptance and compassion. Eventually, Mara realized the Buddha would not resist or suppress his attacks, and he retreated. It is in this way that the Buddha became enlightened. He could finally see clearly and fully.”
— An excerpt from The Practice of Groundedness by Brad Stulberg
Things only became more apparent when I removed myself from the two issues and looked upon them as an objective observer. The first arrow hit me hard. Now I had to avoid the second more painful one coming my way.
I had to respond from a place of total acceptance.
Doing so meant that I had to:
1. Accept what is happening without judging myself.
2. Choosing the right action that aligns with my core values.
3. Taking action, no matter how hard and uncomfortable it may feel.
At first, I blamed myself when I looked back at missed opportunities I had to avoid what happened to me. But I quickly realized that I was going down a rabbit hole of self-criticism and rumination that would keep me down in the dumps for a long time.
I cut myself some slack and told myself the truth. I couldn’t stop the cash flow crisis or force my friend to show up. I was self-compassionate enough to understand that I hadn’t become a lousy businessman or a bad person all of a sudden.
Moving forward, in the case of the company’s cash flow crisis, I accepted that no extra cash would be coming in. So I refused to take an expensive short-term loan and instead contacted my creditors and asked for payment deferrals. Some agreed, but others didn’t. And somehow, we made it through the month.
With my friend, I wrote a letter explaining how I felt and why I was disappointed, knowing that in not entertaining their selfish and self-centred ways, that I might lose them. But, I’ve accepted that and right now, I need the support that my values give me.
Perhaps, I will suffer more cash flow issues in the future, and I might not hear from my friend for a long while.
However, in accepting the situation as it was, and making difficult choices, I’ve acted in a way that fitted with my innermost values.
Now, I hope to avoid the second more painful arrow.