Do you have to shoot that second arrow?

A great warrior was walking through a dense forest long ago, and an arrow suddenly struck her. The sharp and intense pain cascaded throughout her body in a few minutes.

As she tried to push away the pain, her mind started racing. Who shot this arrow? How can I find them and retaliate? She worried that she couldn’t leave the forest in her state. The worry, anxiety, and anger swelled within her. She felt the second arrow’s effects- it’s one she shot at herself.

This classic Buddhist parable on the relationship between pain (first arrow) and suffering (second arrow) is foundational to my recovery story.

My medical team painted a bleak future for me in the early days. The accident was a slow-motion moment that shattered my life as I knew it. It was my first arrow, and the pain was unrelenting, but as laid in my hospital bed, I pulled back the bow and fired the second arrow.

I blamed the driver who hit me; I blamed myself. I thought my life was over and wondered what kind of husband and father I would be. I didn’t want to be “that guy” and be a burden to others. I was overwhelmed, terrified, and pissed at the world. On the outside, I put my shiny, happy people armor on because that’s what nice guys do. I was arguing with reality, and reality was winning.

Pain x resistance = suffering


We all get struck by arrows of misfortune from time to time. Relationships end, reorgs happen, our teenagers frustrate the hell of us, things break, people don’t show up, and the list goes on and on. Some arrows are worse than others, but the first arrow is seldom lethal.

It’s the second arrow – the negative ways we deal with and tell stories about our misfortune — that can devastate us. The challenge is to avoid shooting the second arrow when it feels like the proper way to react.

I call my accident My Last Bad Day, and sometimes, when I share my story with corporations, there are a few in the audience who scoff, believing I’m part of the industrial happiness complex (I am not), and will start to shoot rainbows, unicorns, and Skittles out my arse.

During a particularly low moment in my recovery, a mentor shared with me that all events are neutral until we label them. They said I had every right to see myself as a victim, but they invited me to shift my perspective – maybe the accident didn’t happen to me, but rather for me. They gave me space to create a new story.

Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. – Viktor Frankl

Naming it My Last Bad Day is acknowledging that our days are a collection of moments – some are joyous; others contain first arrows. It’s about recognizing that the world is nuanced, we’re complicated, and most of our moments are delicate shades of gray rather than black or white. It’s about gratitude and appreciating what I can do, still have, and how my mud fertilizes the loti in my life.

Over the last twenty-two years, I’ve had plenty of bad, angry, sad, frustrating, irritating, fearful, shameful, and guilty moments – we’ll stop there, but I could go on. Still, there’s no way I can label a whole day as bad when I have my family, friends, and colleagues who I love and love back in my life.

We should feel all the feels – denying, resisting, or repressing our first arrow emotions only places rocks in our backpacks. Through mindfulness, we can sit with versus react to what we are feeling without getting caught up in our feelings and being owned by them (second arrow).

For significant no-bueno situations like my accident, mindfulness can give us the space to witness our second arrow stories and figurately stand back to see things through a different lens or shift our perspective.

When the S.U.V. hit me, it took less than a second and left me with a chronic condition. I’m Kintsugi, and perfectly imperfect. Sometimes I still shoot second arrows, get in my way, and self-sabotage – even as an executive coach and meditation teacher. These moments are not pleasant, but they provide lessons essential for growth.

We have this wonderful ability to hold several thoughts at once, but when it comes to living an enlighted life, it doesn’t happen when we simultaneously play the victim. Eventually, we must choose between taking a moment to Pause Breathe Reflect or pulling the second arrow from our quivers and turning a bad moment into a bad day or longer.

They say things happen for a reason. I’m not sure about that, but I’m confident that you choose the reason by how you respond to the moments that make up your precious life.

Life is a miracle…don’t take it for granted.

Until next, have fun storming the castle.


p.s., To celebrate my happy anniversary of 22 years, everything at Pause Breathe Reflect is 50% through Tuesday. It’s more than gear. It’s an invitation to live differently and a reminder to come back to your breath.