How a Game of Darts is Controlling our Lives
The game of darts can be traced back to England during the rule of Henry the VIII (1491–1547). The story goes that the King would make his archers practice all year round to keep them in peak performance. One day, after a night of drinking IPA’s, one archer said, “Bro, anyone can shoot an arrow *wobble* let’s see who can throw an arrow and hit the center!” History records are a little fuzzy around this time so don’t quote me on the dialog. However, this article isn’t about the game we all know where you throw a tiny dart at a circle and hope you hit the center. You’re probably saying “Kyle, why did you say all that stuff about the history of darts?” The truth is I thought it was a pretty cool story and adjacent to the game of darts that we all play on a daily basis, that I would like to talk about today.
The dart game that is controlling our lives is an emotional and subconscious dart game that is responsible for our negative reactions. In Buddhism, this is called the two darts of suffering. In this article I am going to break down what the two darts are, and how to make progress on not falling victim to their piercing blow.
The first dart is pain that we feel physically and/or psychologically. First darts will be plentiful throughout your life, they come in the form of stepping on a LEGO barefoot or getting called an insulting name. First darts are being thrown everywhere and we must navigate life despite them. We cannot control or avoid first darts, they will hit us regardless of what we do.
While life is throwing first darts at us we have second darts flying our direction as well. Except there is one key difference, second darts are the ones we throw at ourselves. For example, if the first dart is stepping on a LEGO barefoot, the second dart is yelling at the child for not cleaning up their LEGO mess. Like I mentioned earlier, we have no control over the first darts that make contact with us, in this case the LEGO being left on the floor. We do however, have control of that reactionary response of yelling at the child, the second dart. These second darts are more dangerous than simply getting angry because a first dart caused us pain. We throw second darts at ourselves even when a first dart isn’t present. For example, have you ever read an email from a colleague and got upset because you felt how they wrote something was antagonizing? Most of us have, and typically, the insult wasn’t intended by the sender, instead we applied a negative meaning and hit ourselves with a second dart. Following this unnecessary second dart we usually calm down and think, “maybe I should not have reacted that way.”
I was first introduced to the two darts of suffering from a book called Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson. Hanson states that the challenge we encounter trying to control our second darts is awareness. In the process of overcoming this challenge there are 4 stages of growth that you will experience.
Stage 1 — You are having a second dart reaction without realizing it (before understanding this concept)
Stage 2 — You realize you’re being hijacked by a second dart reaction but cannot stop (after understanding this concept)
Stage 3 — Some aspect of the reaction arises but you stop and realize your having a second dart reaction (after understanding this concept and applying a technique we will cover)
Stage 4 — The reaction doesn’t even come up. You forget about the problem and find a solution (Grandmaster dart wizard…)
Let’s talk about some techniques that I currently use for progressing through these stages. Remember, we all start at stage 1 and hopefully by reading this you will be in stage 2. Getting from stage 2 to 3 comes from forcing yourself to pause after the second dart hits. Do this by asking yourself “is this a second dart reaction?” whenever you are having an emotional response to something. In the beginning, you will ask this question during a second dart reaction, which will end it prematurely. As you practice, you will start asking it right when the reaction starts to surface and will be able to keep this reaction internal. In my opinion, if this is the best you are ever able to do then learning this concept was a success. Just being able to control your emotions at that level is valuable and can have a huge impact on your life.
Stage 4 is a tricky one, and I am not an authority on how to get to this stage because I am not a grandmaster dart wizard. What I would like to point out about this is the last part, “you forget about the problem and find the solution.” In the example of stepping on the LEGO barefoot you would bend down, pick it up, and put it away instead of yelling at the child. Image the impact that level of emotional control would have on your life, that is something worth striving for.
What impact do you think second darts are having on your life?