Recently, I was discussing an old grievance about a former college roommate with another college roommate. The discussion centered on the “why” this person treated both of us in a disparaging way in the past.
I proffered the following response to my good friend, “I just don’t understand?”
He replied, “Remove the poison arrow.”
A rather oblique response and one in which I will delve into shortly. The sad reality is we might never know the “why”; rather, how we deal with the issue is more important.
The interplay between stimulus and response is one we all deal with daily. Some stimulus is inserted and then a response is given. However, mindfulness takes this to a new level. The distance between the stimulus and response is the brief second before we respond. It centers on contemplation, reflection and strategic thinking in developing an appropriate and unemotional response.
It takes a brief second to compose your thoughts and then offer a mindful response that articulates the facts. It reduces the primal urge to spew forth a disjointed quagmire of emotional and chaotic anger the other party is seeking from you. It often reduces the trajectory of the poison arrow.
There is no doubt the effects of the poison arrow can be crippling. This is echoed in “The parable of the poison arrow,” which is described and illustrated on Wikipedia. “The sutta begins at Jetavana where the monk Malunkyaputta is troubled by Gautama Buddha’s silence on the fourteen unanswerable questions, which include queries about the nature of the cosmos and life after the death of a Buddha.
“Malunkyaputta then meets with Gautama Buddha and asks him for the answers to these questions. He says that if he fails to respond, Malunkya will renounce his teachings. Gautama responds by first stating that he never promised to reveal ultimate metaphysical truths such as those and then uses the story of a man who has been shot with a poisoned arrow to illustrate that those questions are irrelevant to his teachings.
“It’s just as if a man were wounded with an arrow thickly smeared with poison. His friends and companions, kinsmen and relatives would provide him with a surgeon, and the man would say, ‘I won’t have this arrow removed until I know whether the man who wounded me was a noble warrior, a priest, a merchant, or a worker.’
“He would say, ‘I won’t have this arrow removed until I know the given name and clan name of the man who wounded me ... until I know whether he was tall, medium, or short ... until I know whether he was dark, ruddy-brown, or golden-colored ... until I know his home village, town, or city ... until I know whether the bow with which I was wounded was a longbow or a crossbow ... until I know whether the bowstring with which I was wounded was fiber, bamboo threads, sinew, hemp, or bark ... until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was wild or cultivated ... until I know whether the feathers of the shaft with which I was wounded were those of a vulture, a stork, a hawk, a peacock, or another bird
“... until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was bound with the sinew of an ox, a water buffalo, a langur, or a monkey.’ He would say, ‘I won’t have this arrow removed until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was that of a common arrow, a curved arrow, a barbed, a calf-toothed, or an oleander arrow.’ The man would die, and those things would still remain unknown to him”
This story and the attitude of the poisoned man on his deathbed cycles on the edge of absurdity. But how many times have we acted like the wounded warrior and focused on past hurts or sought answers to irrelevant questions, rather than concentrating on truly important ones?
The moral imperative of this story centers on the notion of not asking the “metaphysical why,” rather, more importantly, to immediately get rid of the poison arrow and not inquire where it came from or why you were shot.
All too often, these are issues beyond our control. Leaving the poison arrow in us is akin to getting shot with a second poison arrow. We never get rid of the pain.
From an organizational view, we often are relegated to a barrage of poison arrows from mean-spirited leaders, co-workers or even close associates. Instead of focusing on the “why,” which you might never understand, remove the arrow and move on.
Remember the poison arrow only hurts if you do not remove it. Consequently, “your value doesn’t decrease based on someone’s inability to see your worth.”
A common methodology to overcome the poison arrow is to “ignore and override.” As Neil Young so eloquently wrote in one of his songs, “Does it mean that much to me to mean so much to you?” Therefore, mindfulness requires you to move beyond the poison and toxicity we all face daily and focus on the task at hand. Your pause and mindful response between the stimulus and response determines if the arrow penetrates your consciousness.
Finally, Buddha offers us the one method to remove the poison arrow and toxicity it causes us, “Do not dwell in the past; do not dream of the future; concentrate the mind on the present moment.”
Put forth in another way, Sonia Ricotti said, “Surrender to what is. Let go of what was. Have faith in what will be.”
You might find in the end the poison arrow can be removed easily, and the “why” was never that important after all.