When I first started my work at Your Life is a Garden, I began to develop the idea of a tool guild. I didn’t integrate it into my current life design teaching because it seemed complicated, maybe partly because I didn’t have a great story about its use in action that could illustrate why it makes sense to have more than one tool in our tool belt (to switch metaphors…). Now I do.
One of my favorite Buddhist teaching stories is the one about the two arrows. For example, when we stub our foot, the first arrow is the actual pain of doing that. Ouch, this hurts! The second arrows consist of all the stuff we pile on top of that pain, this is the suffering of fighting reality: “How could I be so stupid! Who left that chair there anyways! etc.”
On Sunday, I added so many second arrows that I couldn’t even see the first one anymore. There was anger fueled by judgments and blame. There was fear of consequences I wouldn’t like (future thinking). There was despair about not living in a different world – and blaming everybody else for that. After these arrows collapsed under their own weight (and a lot of help from my friends!), I began to investigate what the first arrow was. I uncovered it on Tuesday: Disappointment from unmet expectations. That was the ouch onto which I had piled second arrows.
What does all this have to do with a tool guild? Well, I had a very hard time of letting go of the first arrow! It really hurt! And all the mindfulness about it didn’t seem to help. It dawned on me that an antidote could be some empathy. Maybe a great tool for the first arrow, at least the emotional kind, is Nonviolent Communication. NVC is a process that formalizes giving empathy. Actually, in my formulation of the first arrow I already included one element: The feeling. I felt disappointed. Figuring this out requires me to drop any stories (second arrows) to actually get in touch with my body and feel what I feel. Then I can look at the need that created this feeling because it wasn’t met. In this case, I would guess, the unmet need was connection. The empathy released the first arrow.
Of course, to do this work, I needed to be aware of what was going on, which often happens via the second arrows. Through mindful awareness, I noticed that I was judging and blaming and fueling the anger. In my case, though, I had a hard time just stopping – because I had not addressed the first arrow yet. So, in order to untangle myself, I used two tools: Mindfulness and NVC. Without using both, I might have ended up getting stuck.
Empowerment Nugget: I think we sometimes convince ourselves that we aren’t using a tool correctly when it doesn’t seem to resolve the challenge we are facing. We think it should be a multi-purpose tool, a one-size-fits-all kinda thing. Probably one of my second arrows was something like “you should be meditating more so you could drop this!” We can then empower ourselves with other tools. Some tools might work better for some situations or parts of a process (like removing the two arrows). There is nothing wrong with combining multiple tools into a powerful healing tool guild!
What are your favorite self-help tools? Are you using them together to help yourself even more?