The Third Arrow

14 April, 2013

Have you ever wondered why some things bother us so much, and other things we can just let go of easily?

Tara Brach - psychologist/buddhist/public figure - often talks of the second arrow. What she means is this: when an event happens that is less than positive e.g. a bad feeling, a negative emotion, an embarrassing moment, an internal beat up, this is the first arrow. It is then followed by the way we feel about this event - the second arrow.

I have blogged about it before and named the NLP term for it - a meta response. In short, it is how we think/feel about how we think/feel. The metaphor of the arrow is used in description of our less than positive reactions. We can have them all the time, in all kinds of ways, shapes and forms, and is often so subtle we don't even realise it e.g. beating ourselves up for beating ourselves up!

A few weeks ago, I experienced my very own third arrow. I was honoured be involved in a good friend's wedding. She had asked me to read a grace - a blessing on their first meal as man and wife. There were probably about 100 people present. Considering myself an experienced public speaker and presenter I didn't feel nervous beforehand. My nervousness pattern - when it shows up - has always been nerves beforehand, now just slight butterflies, but once I start talking I am as good as gold within milliseconds.

On this occasion, I was good as gold, and, once I got the microphone in my hand and looked up to see 100 well dressed people staring at me expectantly, my hand and voice started shaking. I read what I had planned on my piece of paper, and from all accounts read it clearly and people appreciated the words. But guess which bit I was stuck on, and I mean stuck on? You guessed it, how could my hand have been shaking?! My self talk went a bit like this:

Event (first arrow): hand shakes during speech

Internal Me I (second arrow): oh my god, my hand was shaking, I wonder who noticed? Perhaps people were too far away to notice.. if they did notice, what are they going to think?!

Internal Me II (third arrow): I can't believe I am giving myself such a hard time about my hand shaking, I mean, I wouldn't think anything of it if I saw someone's hand shaking! Come on! I should be over such self criticism by now, I should know better ...

Get the gist?

Tara also talks about this, that it is not just that we experience our problem patterns every now and again, it is that we have been experiencing them since we were like 15 years old, and fully expect that we should be over them by now.

What can I say? We are capable of giving ourselves more of a hard time than anyone else. After years of doing therapy and coaching with people, with a myriad of techniques to help teach people's brains to be kinder to them, our brains are still capable of these internal beat ups. All that we can do, is practice awareness: catch ourselves when we notice the our second and third arrows, and as soon as we do catch it, come back to something more soothing. The kind of internal dialogue we would use for a friend in this situation.

It is not easy, and requires attention and practice. And we are all capable of attention and practice. Catching yourself in the now moment, and changing the pattern from there.

As always, I love to hear of your experiences and thoughts; leave a comment and have a chat. Charlotte.

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