The Second Arrow
I once read that Ram Dass said “If you think you’re enlightened, go spend two weeks with your parents.”
Well, I'm doing just that.
Not that I was under any delusion that I’m enlightened, but I’ll admit, I thought I was more accepting and kind than the last two weeks have shown me to be.
Kindness, when we’re carrying baggage from the past, can be as elusive as a shard of glass in a field. When we’re loaded up with resentment, hurt and pain, finding it in ourselves to be kind can be like searching for a dropped contact lens at a rave. Before you know it, it’s been trampled, kicked, flicked and destroyed.
And what does that do to your vision? Sayonara clarity, hello Lost In The Dark.
Well, I’m sorry to say, that’s been me in the presence of my parents. I have so little kindness and compassion when I’m with them that you’d think I’d be at home on Death Row. At least, that’s the story I tell myself. Which, in Buddhism, is called a Second Arrow.
To explain: you do something wrong, then you stab yourself in the heart for making a mistake. Doesn’t really help, does it.
But our lives are full of second arrows. Mine has been aquiver with them since I landed at Heathrow two weeks ago.
If you were unfortunate enough to witness me sitting at the table with my parents you’d be forgiven for writing me off as disconnected and ungrateful. And I wouldn’t correct you. Because you’d be right.
I have a callous and uncaring side that rears its head when I feel wronged, or hurt, let down or rejected. Any number of ex-boyfriends would be able to tell you about it. I become a stone wall. Or Ice Queen as one of my ex’s used to call me.
Putting up those walls makes me feel better in the short term – I 'protect' myself from feeling hurt – but in the long term it only serves to keep me separate. Not only separate from my pain but separate from love, kindness, compassion, and, ironically, connection.
Unfortunately, knowing all this, doesn’t change anything. I can wax lyrical about emotions, feelings, their effect on our lives and the pain and detriment they cause. But put me in a room with my parents and all that knowledge gets mushed up into a stone-like ball and I temporarily forget everything I think I know.
Buddhist philosophy (and other philosophies, only that’s the one I’ve read most about), tells us to Let It Go, to accept and start each moment anew.
That definitely works. I’ve spent many years accepting things in order to create peace. And I’m not refuting its proficiency. But … Western psychology teaches us about boundaries and I’ve recently been experimenting with that too.
Why? Because I noticed that my acceptance wasn’t running as deep as I thought it was. I began to see that in places I was ‘stepping over’ an inner truth and putting another person’s wellbeing before my own. Which isn't the same as acceptance, because true acceptance doesn't come with a 'but…'.
One part of me says “Accept and start this moment again” another part says “Check in on your authenticity and make sure you’re whole in this moment”.
You can see my dilemma.
Acceptance is a tool that requires no understanding. You simply Let It Be and start again. If and when you can do that, I recommend you take that option. It works.
But we’re human and complex and sometimes (often) we might say we’re letting go, but really, our knuckles are white from gripping our pain so tightly that it can be worth looking a bit deeper to see what’s really bothering us.
Assuming, of course, that this is a pattern and not just a single incident. Although, if you take the Eastern approach, every incident is singular, it’s only our minds that make it appear otherwise. Also true.
But my point here is this. I’m human. Fallible. Imperfect and temporarily blind. And that’s OK. In order for me to continue my practice of acceptance, compassion and kindness, I need to do that when I can and release the Second Arrow when I can’t.
When it comes to family, I have issues. Deep welts that have scarred my psyche. Not because they were awful in the grand scheme of life but because they were made when I lacked the wisdom or insight to Let It Go.
And that doesn’t mean I can’t Let Them Go now, but being who I am, I choose to do as thorough a job as I can. And that means if I feel like a phoney when I’m ‘accepting’ something, I’m going to look deeper and see if I can wipe some of the dust from my lens so that I can be more authentic in my approach.
Fake it before you make it has never been my style.
Truer and truest are what reinforce my inner peace. And so, if finding the truth means uncovering and disclosing my inability to show kindness to the two people who gave me life, so be it.
Shying away from my shadow doesn’t serve me. Dusting a sugar-coated layer of false perfection over my obvious inability to park my ego doesn’t serve anyone. Least of all me. Lying to myself is no worse than lying to another, but uncovering internal lies is an intricate task.
Sharing my fallibility helps me keep myself accountable. Because I can have a tendency towards delusion and grandeur. Just as much as I can tend towards subjugation and pleasing others. Neither are overt, but covert behaviours are what make up the basis of our shadow and so to me, are the very places worth looking.
A bit like cleaning out the dark corners of your basement.
Just like a basement or other dumping ground (under the bed…?) there’s a neverending collection of dust and grime. And just because we can’t see it (or don’t look), doesn’t mean it’s not there.
And the fact that it’s there doesn’t make us bad, wrong or unloveable. It just means we’re human. Perfectly imperfect. Subject to inconsistencies and constantly at the mercy of our inadequateness.
In other words, not enlightened.
And all of that is OK. And natural. And normal. So when I finish this blog and return to my parents’ house I’ll do my best to see more clearly. To see how loving and kind they are. And how loving and kind I am. Or can be.
Because none of us are kind and compassionate all the time, and expecting we will be is simply adding a Second Arrow to something that’s already difficult enough.
Life is hard. And being good and kind all the time is effortful. And impossible.
So, if you find yourself thinking unkind thoughts, even for one moment, know that it’s not your fault. That we all suffer from time to time. And we all experience self-judgement that makes us feel bad about ourselves.
More importantly, if we can learn to release that Second Arrow – the judgement that we shouldn’t be thinking these unkind thoughts – then we are one millisecond closer to softening our hearts and becoming truly accepting.
And if we can master that. Well, then the world will be full of Buddhas and I’ll never have to write another blog.
Until then… see you next time x