Mountain HouseDear Friends,

Last month, someone asked me how I got a tan on my face in the middle of the winter. So I explained. My 22-year-old daughter Hanna and I were at our mountain cabin during a snowstorm which dropped two feet of snow there in the Virginia Blue Ridge mountains. It was lovely and idyllic, especially as we sat by the wood stove reading and chatting.

The day after the snowstorm the sun came out, especially so on our upstairs south-facing deck. I wanted Hanna to see how warm that deck could be, even with mounds of snow and 30 degree weather. I went upstairs in my slippers and out onto the deck without putting on a coat. The sun was warm there although it was still below freezing. I called to my daughter, and she came out barefoot and pulled the door closed behind her.

I heard the door closing, but before I could get any words out, it clicked and locked. We were trapped on the second floor deck acres from any neighbors on a mountain in the snow. We had just two slippers between us and no coats. Thank goodness I was right – the deck was warm and sunny even in the cold.

I’ll be honest. My first response was toward blaming and shaming. “Why would you close the door all the way when going onto a deck?!” I asked in a louder-than-usual voice. “Well you and Dad have always insisted that we not let cold air into the house!” was her rebuttal. Clearly, blaming wasn’t going to get us inside the warm house (where the dogs were relaxing by the fire). We had no phones, no shoes, and no warm clothes. Hanna was in a t-shirt. We faced the mountain with the road down the mountain on the other side of the cabin, and no cars passed by anyway because of the snow. There was one thin edge of deck that wasn’t covered in snow. Rather than venting, we dumped the snow out of the two metal chairs and sat down to consider our situation.

For the next hour or so, we tried several techniques. First, I tried to climb down by hanging from the deck and reaching one leg for the flower boxes. After hitting ice under my slippers and almost falling, we decided that was a bad idea. We tried kicking the door individually and together, and even tried to use the chair legs to pry it open. We used both of our slightly different hair clips to try to pick the lock. No luck. Over and over we considered jumping down, but neither of us were brave enough to risk breaking a back or a leg. Even as we discussed it, the snow on the ground was melting, making jumping less safe.

We alternated between laughing about our predicament and getting serious about the fact that we would freeze if we didn’t get inside before nightfall. At one point I suggested that our situation was like the fairy tale Rapunzel, and we laughed about the fact that we wouldn’t have enough hair between us to climb down, even if a prince appeared.

Meanwhile, the Dalai Lama’s words kept coming back to me:


Remembering this and practicing it kept us in a state of mind to be ready and open to any and all possible solutions. After more than an hour we heard a snow plow up on the mountain and we realized that there must be someone there plowing. So as soon as we heard the engine go off we started to call out. “Hello!” “Can you help us?!” etc. Eventually we got a response and our nearest neighbor, though he didn’t know what we were saying, braved the two feet of snow to hike up to our house. He was able to get into the house, come upstairs and free us from our second floor perch.

Of course it all turned out just fine, and I even got some sun on my face to show for it, but it could have been a lot worse. Yes, we could have frozen out there in the snow, but even if we hadn’t frozen, we could have chosen to make ourselves miserable the entire time. We could have shamed and blamed each other and ourselves, or gotten ourselves tied in mental knots. We didn’t deny the seriousness of the situation, but I also think we managed not to add any additional suffering to what was already happening.

Buddhists have a story about the second arrow of suffering. We regularly get shot with the arrows of difficulties in our life. Instead of pulling the arrow out, we shoot ourselves with a second arrow. The second arrow could be our anger about the situation, blaming ourselves or others, worrying or doubting, or even using addictions to distract ourselves. On the deck we mostly experienced the arrow as it was, without adding to it.

Roshi Bernie Glassman offers us three Peacemaker tenants. The first, Not Knowing and the second, Bearing Witness invariably lead to the third, Loving Action. Sure, it can be hard to admit we don’t know how, give up the drama of blaming and freaking out and sit in the middle of our difficulty. But maybe it’s worth it, even in this kind of relatively minor irritation.

After the rescue, Hanna and I were able to seamlessly go back to enjoying the snow and the fire without a lot of drama residue. We joked about it later, but it didn’t carry into our lives the way it might have if we had blamed each other or gotten ourselves worked up. We weren’t left with any anger between us, and we didn’t create any resentment or friction in our relationship. Having shot myself and others with the drama of the second arrow many many times, I am slowing seeing how much easier life can be if I simply experience the difficult situation as it is.

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  1. kimberly on April 17, 2014 at 10:02 am

    Hi Anne, I don’t know what to be more impressed by – the way you handled the situation or how you raised your daughter to handle it in a similar way. I am guilty of often shooting the second and third arrows that seem to hit me and whoever else is involved. My hope is that this story stays with me and reminds me that one arrow is all I need and to focus on pulling it out with grace. Thank you for sharing. Kimberly

    • Annie Mahon on April 18, 2014 at 10:15 am

      Thanks, Kimberly. You can be sure that the reason this was worthy of a blog post was because it doesn’t always happen this way. Mindfulness practice and being with people like Thich Nhat Hanh who practice deeply helps keep us present to what is really important. xo annie.

  2. Linda Dais on April 17, 2014 at 10:06 am

    Thanks so much. This is an interesting and clear explanation of a principle that I think may be very helpful.

    • Annie Mahon on April 18, 2014 at 10:15 am

      Thanks, Linda. xo annie.

  3. Suzie KM on April 17, 2014 at 10:11 am

    This is a beautiful piece. I am heartened and inspired by it today.
    Thanks for sharing it!

    • Annie Mahon on April 18, 2014 at 10:16 am

      Thanks! xo annie.

  4. Naba on April 17, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    Wow Anne!

    I have a daughter the same age as Hanna. I am ashamed to admit that I have not always come close to reacting like you did – in thousands of situations!!

    I will now think of the advice and, yes, only look at one arrow and try and deal with just that one!!

    As always, this is very inspiring. Thanks for sharing!


    • Annie Mahon on April 18, 2014 at 10:17 am

      Hi Naba. It is truly challenging not to give in to the inner and outer pressure to blame ourselves and others for difficult situations. If we can do it even once it’s a cause for celebration. Good Luck! xo annie.

  5. Jackaleen on April 17, 2014 at 4:08 pm

    So many things come up: a top one is that “I’m so glad … it wasn’t me.”
    Another one is: “You must have made it up!” Not what I believe, but, Annie, it seems like you need stories like this, so you can inspire the rest of us.

    Another: a similar, but much less threatening, thing happened to my NVC class. We were locked out our classroom and had no keys and no phones, some of us no shoes. and all but one of us no car keys. We took deep breaths, and were proud that we did not go to blame & shame. Now I’m thinking things like, “Maybe we were just getting trained for when things get really rough.”

    Well, I did enjoy the story and am so glad the neighbor was there and could hear you.

    • Annie Mahon on April 18, 2014 at 10:21 am

      Thanks for your note, Jackaleen. I agree that we are always getting trained for more challenging things that are to come. Whether we learn from the challenge is really up to us and our mindfulness practice. And sometimes we aren’t able to be with difficulties, they are just too much and we react in unhelpful ways. It happens! And then the practice is to be compassionate toward ourselves (and others who react) because we are all human, and we’re all just trying to survive. xo annie.

  6. heather weiss on April 23, 2014 at 4:11 pm

    How do I get a downloadable copy of this–I would like to put it in my journal. It is a wonderful piece.

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