Do you know the story of the Second Arrow, and how it can help you foster positive and healthy thinking during a scary time like this?
With the complete lockdown situation, people around the world are facing the current crisis of self-quarantine. It is an attempt to control the spread of coronavirus by limiting the number of people becoming carriers. This novel situation limits your choices of action, but your choices of thought are not limited. You still can find solace in your logical thinking or be swept away with the anxiety of the future. The thoughts you choose have the power to hurt you or to heal you. These can be scary times, but we are resilient!
You may have some level of fear about this new way of living. That’s just normal human nature. But if your brain gets hijacked by this fear then it can have a negative effect on your immunity. Research shows that stress hormones make you more susceptible to viruses and also increases the time it takes to recover from it.
Here the focus is to fight the external enemy or situation and not the virus attacking the body within. This way you make yourself less immune because of your inability to correctly distinguish between the actual and virtual threat.
The Second Arrow
The negative stressful fear-based thinking is akin to the Second Arrow of the Buddhist parable. According to this story, a great warrior was accidentally hit in the left foot by an arrow and felt tremendous pain. Outraged and angry the warrior took another arrow and shot it into the exact same spot and fell down screaming in pain. The second arrow not just doubled the pain but made it at least ten times more intense. What an unreasonable warrior, right? Who would ever do such a stupid thing? Well everyone does it! Here the first arrow stands for an actual bad event and the second arrow represents your negative reaction to this bad event.
Want to know how Buddhist principles can help your mental health? Read 5 Ways Mandalas Can Help Reduce Stress and Anxiety
Staying at home is the unwelcome first arrow for almost everyone. But the second arrow comes in the form of negative thoughts like “I’m going to be alone forever. I could get sick. I could die. My loved ones could die. My 21 days are ruined. The economy could crash. I could lose all the money I have in the market. I could go broke. I could die of starvation. I want this all to go away NOW”. The second arrow may take the form of judgment – Why is the government attacking my freedom? Or fear – What if the virus doesn’t go away? Or anger – I hate that I’m quarantined. I don’t deserve this!
Often, you even shoot the third and fourth arrows, e.g. when you get afraid about being fearful, frustrated about being annoyed or depressed about being stressed. The third arrow hits you when you feel bad for feeling anxious or thinking certain thoughts like ‘Why am I feeling so upset? I shouldn’t feel it’ or ‘What kind of horrible person am I for thinking about such worst-case scenarios?’ These negative thoughts increase the stress of the actual event, by ten times or even more.
Most of life’s suffering is caused by such second arrows rather than first arrows. In other words, with negative thinking, you now have two enemies; the virus named “corona” and the virus named your “mind.” And it’s the mind’s fear, negativity, and habit of always looking for what’s wrong or what could go wrong that may be poisoning your life right now. While the first arrow is unavoidable and undoubtedly painful, the real suffering stems from self-inflicted second and third arrows, which you have control over.
Moral of the story – RELAX! Life will hit you with arrows. Don’t hit yourself with another one in the same exact spot.