Buddha teaches: In life we will be hit by an arrow we cannot control.  This arrow is the inevitable painful experience of loss, mistakes, failures, illness, aging, and death.  It’s inevitable that we all will bear its pain.

But, the second arrow, our reaction to the first, is not inevitable.  It is up to us whether we will become frustrated, judgmental, critical, and hateful and compound the suffering of the first arrow.   We cannot save ourselves from the first arrow.  But we can save ourselves from the second.

From Parable of Two Arrows


Notes for Contemplation as You Use this Devotional:

  • This parable is among the many wisdom teachings in Buddhist tradition. It reminds us that we all experience pain and heartbreak in our lives, and that we can choose how we’ll respond to them when they do.
  • Rather than view this negatively, or from a “good/bad” perspective, Buddha actually offers us compassion, hope, and an opportunity to heal.
  • From Buddha’s perspective, we can discern how we’ll treat ourselves when the inevitable occurs. So, rather than berating ourselves for mistakes, failures, and shortcomings, we can view them as part of our personal and spiritual transformation. Rather than condemning our bodies for being sick, we can nurture them with appropriate rest, nutrition, medicine, and exercise.  Rather than fighting the aging process, we can celebrate our wisdom and ability to adjust to new ways of living.  Rather than fighting or fearing death, we can view it as the next experience of everlasting life.
  • With discernment, we refrain from trying to comfort ourselves with the platitude, “Everything happens for a reason.” We also avoid lashing out or freaking out. This is practicing self-compassion, nurturing ourselves when we’re hurting and acknowledging that sometimes life can be difficult and challenging because that’s the way life is.
  • Instead of asking ourselves, “What’s the lesson here?” when we’re hurting, we do better asking, “What can I make of this now that it’s occurred?” and “What can I do to heal the pain?” The first way is looking backward at a past we cannot change. The other way is faithfully looking ahead to a hopeful future and enfolding ourselves in compassion.

Contemplation Questions:

As you reflect on your life and circumstances, ask yourself:

  • In what, if any ways, have I berated or condemned myself about my:
    • mistakes and failures
    • physical, mental, and emotional well-being
    • aging body
    • finances and security
    • employment and/or service to others
    • personal relationships
    • spiritual practice
      • For each category, without analysis or judgment, list, word map, or illustrate whatever negative things you have believed about yourself.
  • When I look at what I’ve said in each category, what would I like to believe instead to ease my pain and help me heal?
    • For each category, list, word map, or illustrate as much positivity as you want to believe. No worries if you don’t fully believe it yet.  Put on a fake-it-while-you’re-making-it mindset and note as much as you can.
  • As I reflect on all aspects of my life from a positive perspective, how am I able to heal from the pain of what has occurred (the first arrow)?
    • List, word map, or illustrate whatever feels healing for you.
  • What am I discerning that I can do differently so I avoid inflicting additional pain (the second arrow) on myself?
    • List, word map, or illustrate everything you are discerning.
  • What positive, transformational steps can I take to continue any healing I need and to feel more hopeful about my future?
    • List, word map, or illustrate as much as you can imagine.

Be extremely gentle with yourself as you use this devotional.  Remember that no matter how prayed up or spiritually mature we are, we’ll inevitably experience some pain and loss in our lives.  Yet, we still have the inner strength to choose whether we’ll suffer through them.  As much as possible, be compassionate with yourself and nurture yourself with comfort and lovingkindness.  Focus on one hopeful thing, even if it’s as simple as the sunrise.  Let your self-talk be loving as you heal.  Affirm: “Centered in the consciousness of my heart, I know my spirit is strong.  I am greater than any mistake or loss I may experience.  As I completely love and accept myself now, I am healed anew.  And so it is!”

© 2022 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks – All rights reserved.

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