the second arrow

In her book True Refuge, Tara Brach relays this timeless parable of the second arrow:

The Buddha once asked a student, “If a person is struck by an arrow, is it painful?” The student replied , “It is.” The Buddha then asked, “If the person is struck by a second arrow, is that even more painful?” The student replied again, “It is.” The Buddha then explained, “In life, we cannot always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. And with this second arrow comes the possibility of choice.”

I often return to this teaching. For myself, when I can pause and see the second arrow coming, I can prevent a lot of pain. In others, when I see them getting hit by the second arrow (and the third, and the fourth, and so on), I see an opportunity for them to escape suffering.

When mulling over this concept of the second arrow, my recent kick on the idea of the attention war also made me connect this Buddhist parable to the OODA loop (a decision cycle of observe, orient, decide, and act developed by the military strategist John Boyd). When someone dodges the second arrow, we might say that they go through the OODA loop for their emotions. The OODA loop dovetails with another Buddhist teaching, the RAIN technique, that I've found helpful in difficult times.

The parable of the second arrow, the OODA loop, and the RAIN technique all point to the same fundamental truth: we gain incredible insight and power in the pause. There are different ways of getting to this space. I just know that it is important.