I’ve just finished reading a marvelous new book written by my old pal Thomas Wade. When I say old I mean we go back over 30 years, to that delightful time that we toured Canada together in a country band. Shenanigans, drunken debauchery, boredom, bedlam and broke-dom … we experienced it all together.
If you had told me then that Tom would go on to write a book like “Singing In My Sleep” I think I might have guffawed. At the very least I would have been incredulous. I love Tom and always have. He was (and still is) an amazing singer, hilariously funny guy, one of the best songwriters I know and cute as a button. Would I have believed years later he would write an inspirational yet scientifically fact-driven, keenly researched and beautifully presented tome documenting his journey through a little-known disorder called Dystonia?
Nope. Not in a million years.
I’m not going to tell you Tom’s story, fascinating as it is. I urge you to buy the book. What I would like to do is share some of the philosophies I personally earned from the author , tenets I did not previously know and nuggets of wisdom that are (or can be) life-changing.
I’ll begin with “the two arrows”, apparently based on an old Buddhist parable. It goes like this:
You get shot once. This first arrow comes from an outside source. Something happens to you that seems pretty much out of your control. You slam your finger in a car door. Some idiot cuts you off on the highway. You get lost in Toronto trying to find your son’s new apartment in a maze of one-way streets all going the wrong way and you drive around for what seems like hours, your temper bubbling over at every turn, and when you finally get into the parking garage you bang your car door into the cement wall at which time you grab the homemade muffin that your child’s stepmother has lovingly gifted you with but which has now left cream cheese all over your car seat and drill it into that same evil cement wall.
Is that just me?
You see THAT is the second arrow. And I shot it myself. AT myself.
Getting lost in Toronto was the first. Happens to everybody, right? Especially when traffic lights and the one-way streets don’t cooperate. Yet even as I was driving in circles, talking to my son on the phone (you were allowed in those days), and he was begging me to calm down, I did not. Sure, I allowed that first arrow to penetrate as deep and as painfully as it could.
But that second arrow – the self-inflicted one that shot out of my quiver when I slammed the door and then the muffin – THAT was all me. I did have a choice at that moment. I could have opened the car door more gently in the tight space. I could have cleaned up the cream cheese later. I could have eaten the damn muffin instead of annihilating it. I could have taken a few deep breaths, calmed my head and gone to enjoy a happy visit with my son.
But noooooooooo. I chose the 2nd arrow. I chose to shoot it. At myself. How stupid is that? I chose to have a temper tantrum in an underground parking garage in downtown Toronto and I chose to murder a poor defenseless and probably delicious cream-cheese covered muffin because …
Yeah. Good question.
Because I had not learned how to control my mind. My thoughts. My base (and by base I mean lowest of the low) reactions. I had not taught myself to do that.
And teach ourselves we must. We must learn by conscious effort and then practice, practice, practice. We must stop ourselves just as we are readying that 2nd arrow for attack and we must say (quietly) – what the fuck? I just got hurt! Why do I want to hurt further? Doesn’t it make more sense to overcome the first hurt and move on with my lovely life?
I have managed a better (or more peaceful) response on occasion. On the first Christmas morning after my ex-husband and I split up, he came to my house to share the day with our son and me. I was also preparing for the family dinner and at one point, while he was using the bathroom, I tried to move a table and ended up shattering a full bottle of red wine on the ceramic floor. When he came into the kitchen and saw red everywhere, there I was, calmly cleaning up the mess.
“What happened?” he exclaimed in disbelief.
“I broke a bottle of wine,” I sighed and carried on wiping.
There was a brief silence and then “Who are you and what have you done with Vickie?”
My darling ex was vaguely familiar with my short fuse and somewhat vocal reactions to negative stimuli. But there I was, all Zen. Hey, I was involved with a yoga instructor at the time and that shit rubs off!
On another occasion I had just arrived at the radio station where I hosted a midday show. Somehow in the exiting of my sporty little vehicle, handbag, paperwork and large Tim’s coffee all in hand, with the lid on said coffee not securely fastened by the lovely lady who had passed it out the window, I managed to squirt scalding coffee all over my new Gap blue jeans. Literally all over.
I was livid. And in a bit of pain. But mostly livid at that broad’s ineptness and livid that I would have to spend a full day in wet, stained jeans. My comfort and my vanity were both supremely compromised!
Until I walked into the station and realized that me having a tantrum was not conducive to A) my fun-loving radio show or B) my fun-loving relationship with my colleagues. So what did I do?
I got creative. I got on the phone, called the Gap which happened to be in the mall next door and asked if they could pretty please deliver a pair of size 10 boot-cut regulars (or something like that) to the radio station across the street, after which I would give them untold kudos and love on my show.
They did. And not only did I have an okay normal day I had a fine fantastic extra awesome day. I had conquered the demon 2nd arrow and got myself out of wet jeans at the same time!
So maybe the trick is to THINK twice instead of shooting twice? Maybe when you become AWARE that the 2nd arrow really wants to see some action you’ll respond “Sorry buddy, not today.” Because the beauty is YOU are in charge of the 2nd arrow. Always. The universe might shoot at you willy-nilly with nary a rhyme or reason and you’re gonna have to take it. But that 2nd arrow is ALWAYS in your control. And the more you control it, the less often it will shoot you.
One more story – Most people think my friend W is a sweetheart. Lovely. Nice. Accommodating. Even mild-mannered. He comes across that way.
What most people do not realize is that he can also be Robin Hood on steroids. That 2nd arrow is never too far from his trembling hands. He shoots it often and with glee. Except that glee is always laced with resentment. And in my opinion, resentment will always turn cancerous. It eats you up from the inside.
Several years ago W and I were on the golf course. I used to be a pretty good golfer but don’t play much anymore due to back issues. W was new to the sport but, as an accomplished athlete in other arenas, expected to be Arnold Palmer within months.
That ain’t how golf works.
So there we were, and he was having a bad hole, and so was I, but I actually don’t care. And we got to the green and he attempted a pitch and it flubbed and guess what? He threw his club. Apparently there was no arrow handy so W threw his fucking club.
In all my years of golf (I started when I was 22) and all my years of temper-tantrums I have never ever thrown a club.
And so I very calmly looked at him and stated without hesitation “If you ever throw another club ever I will never play with you ever again!”
Because I now know that we don’t need to throw clubs, muffins or arrows. We don’t need to throw anything. One arrow is enough, thank you very much. That 2nd missile can stay put.
That’s our job. Our job is to stifle that 2nd arrow.
It’s work. And then more work. And worth it.
Thanks, Tom and … more to come.
p.s. If you want a copy of Tom’s book email him at firstname.lastname@example.org