Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


The Second Arrow

Cowboy Cottage, East Napa, California, USA

December 7, 2023

"Here we are with nothing going on."
"Building a strategy to avoid the almost certain future binds you as much to the almost certain future as committing to it."
"Pain is inevitable, suffering optional."
... Lord Siddhārtha Gautama Shakyamuni of India aka the Buddha
"Sadness is being shot with an arrow. It's inevitable. Then there's being sad about being sad. That's the second arrow."
... Laurence Platt paraphrasing the Buddha's "Second Arrow" parable
This essay, The Second Arrow, is the companion piece to
  1. "Sadness Is Supposed To Cure Being Sad"
  2. Catastrophize
  3. Compassion For Suffering
It is also the fourth in the quintology Suffering:
  1. No Problem At All: Suffering Is Optional
  2. Approaching Integrity
  3. War Stories
  4. The Second Arrow
  5. Compassion For Suffering
in that order.

I am indebted to Paige Rose PhD who inspired this conversation.

From Mindfulness Meditation: the Buddha's "Second Arrow" parable
The parable of the second arrow is a well-known Buddhist story about dealing with suffering more skillfully. It is said the Buddha once asked a student:

"If a person is struck by an arrow, is it painful? If the person is struck by a second arrow, is it even more painful?".

He then went on to explain:

"In life, we can't always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. This second arrow is optional.".
Is it just me? I'm wary of strategies. Strategies for living life transformed will get in the way of living life transformed. Strategies for living life transformed ie plans of action designed to achieve transformation are at odds with their own truth: that you're already transformed, that there's nothing to do, that there's nothing to get, and there's nothing to fix. All you have to do is be. If you're doing  something in the name of transformation, cut it out! It's not required. It will only get in your way. If you must apply a strategy, tell the truth: that it is outside of what is required to live life transformed. That said, there are a few pragmatic strategies to leverage in a transformed inquiry which bring freedom if congestion prevails. Before we examine one from the Buddha, there's this:

I watched rapt, listening as a man told Werner, "Werner, this work is awesome! Today I disappeared two beliefs I discovered I've been unconsciously living out of.". Without missing a beat Werner retorted "Yes, and as far as I can tell, so far today you've only added one more.". That's decisive. Keep it in mind.

This eternal conversation for transformation we're all in, includes what we're committed to, engaged in, are concerned about etc - in a word, what matters  to us. What matters to us inter alia  is our peace of mind ie our mental and emotional equilibrium  (if you will). There's a certain impact on our mental and emotional equilibrium that goeswith  (as Alan Watts may have said) living. It's the wear and tear of where the rubber meets the road of living. The Buddha calls this the first  arrow, deeming it inevitable. And then there's our futzing  with the impact on our mental and emotional equilibrium that goeswith living, which the Buddha calls the second  arrow, deeming it optional. This optional second arrow occurs in the arena which the Buddha distinguishes as suffering.

Restated for emphasis and impact, in the wear and tear of where the rubber meets the road of living, the Buddha reminds us that pain is inevitable: pain in the form of sadness, pain in the form of fear, pain in the form of disappointment etc. Experiencing any of them is like being shot with arrows. The pain of each of them, is the first arrow. Then in our futzing with each of them, we get being afraid of being afraid, being sad about being sad, being disappointed with being disappointed  etc. That's the second arrow ie that's suffering. In life, the first arrow, pain, is inevitable. The second arrow, suffering, is optional.
Werner, as I continued watching rapt, and listening him speaking in this very specific context, tells the man he's "opposed"  to suffering. "How interesting ..." I muse, "he says he's 'opposed' to suffering. It's an interesting turn of phrase.". And in being "opposed" to suffering, he offers no strategy to alleviate it. Rather, in being "opposed" to it he ups the ante  and instead just leads with his way of being  which simply lets suffering be, and does not futz with it at all. There's so much practical wisdom to that. If you let suffering be, it lets you be. Ironically his approach also allows for being compassionate about suffering.

Thus I'm wary that strategies for living life transformed could actually get in the way of living life transformed. This is an ongoing inquiry for me. And to be sure, I'll see value in a strategy now and then. For example, I'll distinguish what the Buddha calls the second arrow. I'll tell the truth about who (or what) shot it. I am never the shooter of the first arrow. I am always the shooter of the second arrow. The first arrow is inevitable. The second arrow is optional.

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