The second arrow
MEREDITH KLEIN shares her thoughts and experience on self-generosity, and especially how to avoid the Buddha’s concept of the second arrow.
A teacher of mine offers each cohort of students she works with an exercise where she asks them to make a list of all the people they care for in their lives. At the end of five minutes, students put down their pens, and then she asks how many people included their own names on their lists. People rarely, if ever, list themselves.
Similarly, if I asked you now to make a list of the people for whom you practiced generosity, would your name make the list? Most likely not. For most of us, when we are asked how we practice generosity, we bring to mind transactional acts of giving between ourselves and something or someone external to us – whether another person, institution or organization. Perhaps something tangible is involved, or perhaps what we give is intangible (like our time or presence). But almost always, generosity is thought of as an act that binds two parties via the act of giving.
Beyond the ways we have been socially conditioned to think about generosity, we may not bring ourselves to mind when thinking about our generosity practice, simply because many of us have not built a habit of practicing self-generosity. I witness this all the time with my clients, who tell me how they will go to great lengths to find time to prepare healthy, nourishing meals when they have guests coming for dinner, but who will fiercely resist making the effort to cook for themselves, and may even skip meals altogether. For most people, generosity is easier to cultivate for people and things outside themselves, and far harder to conjure up for ourselves.
There are many ways to practice self-generosity, and while many are active practices of dedicating time and resources towards our own betterment, there are also practices of restraint – abstaining from a particular behavior can present a path for self-generosity.
One of the most fruitful ways in which I’ve found to apply this form of self-generosity is the practice of avoiding the second arrow. This comes from a parable in which the Buddha taught that while we cannot avoid the first arrow (inevitable acts of suffering), we can avoid the second arrow that we inflict upon ourselves in the form of our reaction to the first arrow.
For most of us, our default second arrow
is to travel down a thought spiral of
self-criticism because of our mistake.
By avoiding the second arrow,
we practice generosity towards ourselves
by actively choosing to keep our mental space
clear of self-criticism.
This practice is especially potent in situations where we have made any type of mistake. For most of us, our default second arrow is to travel down a thought spiral of self-criticism because of our mistake. By avoiding the second arrow, we practice generosity towards ourselves by actively choosing to keep our mental space clear of self-criticism. For example, if I break a glass and cut myself, an act of self-generosity would be to simply witness what happened, bandage my hand, and pick up the broken glass. The less generous path would be to pile on stories about how I am clumsy or have failed to be mindful.
When we practice in this way, we allow ourselves to tap into a deeper form of generosity – the recognition that as human beings, we will never adhere to any model of perfection. Freed from the shackles of the unrealistic expectations we hold for ourselves, we can extend this remembrance to others. In this way, self-generosity can be the fuel for the extension of greater generosity of spirit to everyone we encounter.
Article by MEREDITH KLEIN
Illustrations by OLGA TASHLIKOVICH
July 30, 2020
July 30, 2020
July 30, 2020