At the end of my last Bounce post, “Anxiety: important to our survival?”, I mentioned the idea of a second arrow of pain. I would like to use this post to talk more about that idea.
We can’t avoid stress or pain in life. Things change, we get sick, lose our job, don’t have the body we wish we had, get older, and so on. There are many painful things that can happen in our lives! We can respond to that pain in a way that minimizes our suffering or in a way that increases our suffering. Reacting in a way that increases our suffering is the “second arrow” of pain.
According to Tara Brach, the Buddha told a parable with this teaching: “If you get struck by an arrow, do you then shoot another arrow into yourself?”
Life will “shoot” us with many arrows of pain. We can minimize suffering, in response to that pain, by not shooting the second arrow.
What would that look like? In the last post, I nudged you to let go of judgments around being anxious, if anxiety is an issue for you. Learning to accept versus judge is a big part of learning how not to shoot the second arrow. If you haven’t had a chance to read about how those judgments about being anxious lead to more pain, be sure to take a moment to go back to that post.
Let’s take another example. How about the ending of a relationship? What would be the pain of the first arrow, in the ending of the relationship? Maybe loneliness, not having someone to do things with or to help with the bills. How might someone shoot the second arrow? Maybe with judgments like “What is wrong with me? No one will ever want me! I am unlovable.” Can you imagine the pain that might come from those words? Sometimes, maybe most times, the second arrow brings pain worse than the first.
We can also shoot a second arrow at ourselves by expecting life to be different than it is. So, in the example of the ending of a relationship, the second arrow might be something like “It isn’t fair”or “I don’t deserve this”.
I do not mean to infer that we need to give up on our goals and what we hope for in our lives. But when we judge the present moment as being dissatisfactory, what happens? Yep, we add to the pain or stress in the moment. When we are stressed, it is much more difficult to follow-through on our goals and plans. Be sure to check back as I will be writing more about the effect of stress on follow-through in a future post.
How do you shoot the second arrow in your life? I would love to hear your thoughts and reactions and so please leave me a comment.
We can’t control the pain that comes into our lives and we can work on our reaction to it. One arrow of pain is enough, don’t you think?