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  • Writer's pictureDrew Dotson

Say NO to the second arrow

I was recently leaving the library like the nerd I am. I always pull out of the parking lot slowly because the visibility isn’t great — shrubbery on one side and a sign on the other. As I edged out, I saw a woman approaching on the sidewalk, stroller and dog in tow. I reversed a few feet to give her the right of way. As I did, she threw her hands up in frustration. “Seriously?” she mouthed, as though I’d ruined her morning by waiting for her to pass.

I could have chosen to think, “Oh, she’s probably exhausted from mom-ing and irritable from this heat.”

Instead, I let my thoughts spiral out of control — into Generalization City. “I try so hard to be thoughtful and considerate, and this is what I get. Would that lady rather me plow through her path, not noticing her at all? Maybe good people do finish last.” And so on. It weighed on me longer than I’d like to admit.

When the woman got mad, it hurt my heart. That was when I got struck by the first arrow. Despite my good intentions, I felt horrible — like I’d done something wrong. I could have acknowledged the pain and moved on with my day. Instead, I shot myself with a second arrow by ruminating and letting it disrupt my peace of mind.

The first arrow would have been enough, but I added insult to injury by shooting myself with a second arrow (and, if I’m honest, a third, fourth, and eleventh arrow). WHY WOULD I WILLINGLY DO THAT TO MYSELF? I wish I’d paused, seen the second arrow approaching, and gotten the heck out of the way.

If you’re wondering about this arrow metaphor, I didn’t come up with it. It’s from a parable in which Buddha asked, “If a person is struck by an arrow, is it painful?” Yes. “If the person is struck by a second arrow, is it even more painful?” Yes. Then the truth bomb: “In life, we cannot always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. With the second arrow comes the possibility of choice.”

I could have been hurt once (arrow number one), but I continued to wound myself by replaying the scenario in my mind (arrow number two and beyond).

And the craziest thing of all is that there didn’t even have to be a second arrow.

Stop at the first arrow.


Aug 10, 2023

I needed to hear this, Drew. Thank you for sharing!!!


Aug 10, 2023

Omg. Are we twins separated at birth? (Well except I am much older than you) I do the same thing. Thank you for this. I will try to remember it.

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