I have a strong-willed child. She’s been that way since birth. She likes to argue. She is asserting herself, yet when she does, I am triggered. Even though I know better, we get into an argument. We both feel we need to defend. We both feel the other person is not really listening. We both feel the same, yet we argue. I don’t like it. I want to stop.
Yesterday, I was listening to a Dharmaseed podcast. I learned about the Tale of Two Arrows. The Buddha asked his students the difference between a practitioner and a non-practitioner. This was his answer. The message I received from it came strongly when I reflected upon the argument I had with my daughter.
The Tale of Two Arrows is a teaching of the Buddha called the Sallatha Sutta and is usually discussed in terms of how to not feel the physical pain of suffering. The first arrow is unavoidable. It is part of human condition. There will be suffering. The second arrow is our response or reaction to the first. Do we shoot it inflicting more pain upon ourselves or others?
The Blessed One said, “When touched with a feeling of pain, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person sorrows, grieves, & laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught. So he feels two pains, physical & mental. Just as if they were to shoot a man with an arrow and, right afterward, were to shoot him with another one, so that he would feel the pains of two arrows; in the same way, when touched with a feeling of pain, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person sorrows, grieves, & laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught. So he feels two pains, physical & mental…
Now, the well-instructed disciple of the noble ones, when touched with a feeling of pain, does not sorrow, grieve, or lament, does not beat his breast or become distraught. So he feels one pain: physical, but not mental. Just as if they were to shoot a man with an arrow and, right afterward, did not shoot him with another one, so that he would feel the pain of only one arrow. In the same way, when touched with a feeling of pain, the well-instructed disciple of the noble ones does not sorrow, grieve, or lament, does not beat his breast or become distraught. He feels one pain: physical, but not mental.
Perhaps my interpretation is askew in terms of Buddhism as I am not a practitioner, but I couldn’t help but visualize the argument with my daughter as arrows flying back and forth. We were not feeling physical pain, but there was definitely emotional pain. I feel this teaching of the Buddha applies to all kinds of pain and our reaction to it.
The argument with my daughter, like most, started over something little. She had been cooking in the kitchen and had cleaned up, yet I noticed she had got some raspberry goo on a plastic bag that was drying on the dish rack. I only made the comment and cleaned the bag. Perhaps it was my tone, perhaps I was not gentle. Whatever the catalyst, it erupted into an argument with her denying she had moved the compost by the bag, and I holding onto the fact that she was the one who had just cooked with raspberries.
A trifle issue. I did not ask her to clean the bag, yet my comment reached into something deeper. After we were done trying to assert ourselves as right flinging arrows at the other, we had a conversation. This is the part I need to stop.
When we were discussing the argument later and it was beginning to get tense again, I asked her to pause and reflect if her next words were going to cause harm to me. This same pause and reflection is what also need remember in the heat of the moment. Is the next statement an arrow?
Later in the evening, I felt another argument brewing. She was trying to make future plans with friends, and my own plans were interfering. I was very clear when I told her no, it would not work out. I noticed the triggers happening. I noticed my bow getting ready to shoot another arrow as she accused me of prioritizing my plans over hers as if I was selfish. I felt the growing need to defend, then I let go of the bow. I put it down. I did not let go of an arrow. I felt the suffering her words caused, but I did not react. The result was there was no argument. I stayed firm in saying it wouldn’t work, then I watched her brainstorm and problem solve to make different plans. I did not solve it for her, which would also have been my habit, but I witnessed her shift her emotions of frustration and anger into something more positive.
You who let yourselves feel: enter the breathing
that is more than your own.
Let it brush your cheeks
as it divides and rejoins beside you.
Blessed ones, whole ones,
you where the heart begins:
You are the bow that shoots the arrows
and you are the target.
Fear not the pain.
Let its weight fall back into the earth;
for heavy are the mountains, heavy the seas.
The trees you planted in childhood have grown too heavy.
You cannot bring them along.
Give yourselves to the air, to what you cannot hold.
– Rainer Maria Rilke [amazon_link id=”0865477213″ target=”_blank” ]Sonnets to Orpheus[/amazon_link]
When we argue with our children, we are the bow that shoots the arrows and we are the target. I am learning.
If you can visualize arrows flying the next time you argue with your child, perhaps you can stop. Perhaps you can see how harmful speech can be. No parent wants to hurt their child, and we often lose sight of that when in the heat of the moment.
May there be less arrows in our communication!
[amazon_enhanced asin=”0865477213″ /]
Thank you for this article. I too have a strong-willed daughter, and we get into arguments all the time. I am a natural debater and so is she but it becomes tiring.
Jennifer Lance says