I'm certainly no Buddha, nor even much of a Buddhist, since while I enjoy non-religious Buddhist teachings, in no way do I consider myself a Buddhist.
But occasionally i have some moments that are in line with Buddhist wisdom, such as what's espoused in an excellent book, "Buddha's Brain: The practical neuroscience of happiness, love, and wisdom."
Last night my wife, Laurel, and I started watching the fourth season of Yellowstone, a streaming series that I like more than Laurel. (Often we alternate in our nightly TV watching between a series she likes more than me, like Bridgerton, and a series I like more than her, like Yellowstone.)
Laurel places much more of an emphasis on realism in movies and television than I do. So yesterday she spoke up several times in the first few minutes of Episode 1 of Season 4, pointing out how this or that couldn't really have happened the way it did in Yellowstone.
I was tempted to argue with her. But after 32 years of marriage, I've learned that some things are worth arguing about with Laurel, and some aren't. Like this one. So I basically kept saying things like, "OK, I see what you mean," which acknowledged her claim of unreality without endorsing it.
(Me, I figure that if I want reality, I just need to look at everyday life. What I want from television or movies is entertainment, getting away from everyday reality into an alternative view of the world.)
What I did, in terminology used by the Buddha's Brain authors, was keep the First Dart of Laurel's criticisms of Yellowstone from becoming a Second Dart caused by my reaction to her comments. Here's how Hanson and Mendius describe the two darts.
Some physical discomfort is unavoidable; it's a crucial signal to take action to protect life and limb, like the pain that makes you pull your hand back from a hot stove. Some mental discomfort is inevitable, too.
For example, as we evolved, growing emotional investments in children and other members of the band motivated our ancestors to keep those carriers of their genes alive; understandably, then, we feel distress when dear ones are threatened and sorrow when they are harmed.
We also evolved to care deeply about our place in the band and in the hearts of others, so it's normal to feel hurt if you're rejected or scorned.
To borrow an expression from the Buddha, inescapable physical or mental discomfort is the "first dart" of existence. As long as you live and love, some of those darts will come your way.
First darts are unpleasant to be sure. But then we add our reactions to them. These reactions are "second darts" -- the ones we throw ourselves. Most of our suffering comes from second darts.
Suppose you're walking through a dark room at night and stub your toe on a chair; right after the first dart of pain comes a second dart of anger: "Who moved that darn chair?!" Or maybe a loved one is cold to you when you're hoping for some caring; in addition to the natural drop in the pit of your stomach (first dart), you might feel unwanted (second dart) as a result of having been ignored as a child.
Second darts often trigger more second darts through associative neural networks: you might feel guilt about your anger that someone moved the chair, or sadness that you feel hurt yet again by someone you love.
In relationships, second darts create vicious cycles: your second-dart reactions trigger reactions from the other person, which set off more second darts from you, and so on.
Remarkably, most of our second-dart reactions occur when there is in fact no first dart anywhere to be found -- when there's no pain inherent in the conditions we're reacting to. We add suffering to them. For example, sometimes I'll come home from work and the house will be a mess, with the kid's stuff all over.
That's the condition. Is there a first dart in the coats and shoes on the sofa or the clutter covering the counter? No, there isn't; no one dropped a brick on me or hurt my children. Do I have to get upset? Not really. I could ignore the stuff, pick it up calmly, or talk with them about it.
Sometimes I manage to handle it that way. But if I don't, then the second darts start landing, tipped with the Three Poisons: greed makes me rigid about how I want things to be, hatred gets me all bothered and angry, and delusion tricks me into taking the situation personally.
Saddest of all, some second-dart reactions are to conditions that are actually positive. If someone pays you a compliment, that's a positive situation. But then you might start thinking, with some nervousness and even a little shame: Oh, I'm not really that good a person. Maybe they'll find out I'm a fraud.
Right there, needless second-dart suffering begins.