I’m late and pedaling furiously on my bike to get somewhere.
My heart pounds and my mind races, berating myself for being late, again.
I finally arrive, irritated, dejected, and breathless.
This was me all the time a few years ago, but my yoga practice has shown me there had to be a better way. Could I bike quickly without rushing? Could I be late for an appointment without self-flagellating all the way there?
This impatience and irritability is like “the second arrow,” a Buddhist concept that says that we cause ourselves more suffering by lamenting about the way things are. We get shot by a circumstance we can’t control: that’s the first arrow. Then instead of shooting out, where it may have some efficacy, we turn our weapons around on ourselves: that’s the second arrow.
Is this metaphor clear? The first arrow (I'm late for my appointment) is a situation I can’t control. Yes, I could do better with time management to prevent this situation in the first place, but once I'm pedaling furiously, there's no changing the circumstance. I can't set the clock back ten minutes.
The second arrow is when I get angry and impatient with myself. I suffer mentally and emotionally, and that’s the second arrow.
We may not be able to change the circumstances, but we can change how we react to them.
Being late is the first arrow. Berating myself for my untimely habits is the second.
And it turns out, I can go fast without suffering! I can bike quickly but breathe slowly. I can imagine that I’m a kid again, flying like the wind, carefree and joyful. Going quickly can be exhilarating instead of exhausting.
The second arrow is optional.
Look around this week. Where are you shooting yourself twice? Can you accept things as they are? Would you suffer less if you did?