When I dream I can fly, I awake buoyant, fresh from swimming in the air.
Waking from nightmares is gruesome. My nightmares are either chase scenarios, where I am hunted, or failure scenarios, where I am ill-prepared, incompetent, or unethical. From those nightmares, I awake in self-disgust, disappointed that I have irresponsibly broken implied rules.
(That’s a definition of disgust: the negative emotion when implied rules are broken.)
Sometimes, I’m shaking off the nightmare for as long as an hour. It seemed so real.
Sometimes, The Nightmare Is Real
What of times — in the real waking world, not dreamed — when I have been truly ill-prepared, incompetent, or unethical? I can easily recall — years later — moments and words of aggression or intolerance. I can easily recall from this week, moments of my discourteous driving. These situations embarrassed me in the moment, or perhaps it took a few days to realize my error.
I could apologize to others. But it’s more difficult to accept my own apology. I am forgiving of others, but not so self-forgiving.
Which leads to the Buddhist story of The Second Arrow.
The Second Arrow
Teacher: “If you were shot with an arrow, would that hurt?”
Student: “Yes, it would hurt very much.”
Teacher: “And if you were shot by a second arrow, in the very same place, would that also hurt?”
Student: “Oh, yes! That would hurt even more, a more grievous injury.”
Teacher: “Then why do you persist in shooting the second arrow?”
The first arrow is the offense of ill-preparedness, incompetence, or unethical behavior. The second arrow is suffering, a reaction to the first arrow, often remorse, embarrassment, self-loathing, self-mockery, or shame.
My second arrow turns out to be ego-grandizing, because it’s all about me. Why did I…? Why am I so…? It’s hardly about the other.
We can return our second arrows to the quiver by focusing on the other. How might we help others — rather than wallowing on our own errors.
I acknowledge that this can be more difficult for me than it sounds: Let’s put down that second arrow, friends!
With thanks for the teachings of Dr. Srikumar Rao at The Rao Institute, who offers insights and methods for personal mastery and creativity — including tools for returning the second arrow to your quiver.