Second Arrow

Second Arrow

Second Arrow is a tool that can help you reduce suffering after a hard event has already occurred.

This idea is prevalent in Buddhist philosophy. When we experience a bad stress, two arrows fly. The first arrow is the actual event striking us. The second arrow is our reaction to the event and leads to most of our suffering.

There is nothing we can do about the first arrow. However, the second arrow we can control and even avoid. If we let it, this second arrow can lead to significant harm to ourselves and those around us. Instead, acknowledging the first arrow and moving forward can be far more productive.


First Arrow: Someone cuts you off in traffic, forcing you to be momentarily scared of collision and to break hard.

Second Arrow: The fear turns to anger which rises in your head. You clench your fists and your teeth. You drive really quickly up behind the car and start yelling and gesturing out the window. You continue to feel angry at the driver and also angry at yourself for your extreme reaction.

Despite the brief scare in traffic, the Second Arrow afterwards lasts hours and takes a lot of enjoyment out of your day.


  1. Pick a stressful event that happened recently.
  2. Describe the first arrow. [the hard event you had no control over]
  3. Ask yourself, did you launch a second arrow? What did this second arrow do? [Hint: almost all of us launch a second arrow]
  4. What could you have done to change your thinking or reaction?
  5. In the future, when you are thinking or reacting to a stress, ask yourself “Is this a Second Arrow?”



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