The second arrow of unnecessary suffering

Sometimes, we’re filled with more pain and discomfort from being afraid of things that might happen in the future, than by how those events would actually feel. Likewise, reliving painful events from our past over and over again in our minds, we generate further suffering in our lives.

nl_cartoon47It’s common to worry about a potentially negative outcome (that probably won’t even happen any way) and how that might feel.

For example, when speaking in front of a group, I worry that I will misspeak and embarrass myself. The weeks I spend worrying about this causes knots in my stomach to the point of nausea, and eventual dread of the speech. If I were to actually misspeak, it is not the big deal I mace it out to be, and it’s likely that the group won’t even notice, care, or judge me for it. But, even if I am embarrassed, this embarrassment may only last a few hours or days.  The severity of the embarrassment is not improved by adding additional weeks to that pain preparing for it. If anything, by hyping it up so much, I’ve made it feel much worse.

Or when you’re driving home from work and someone cuts you off, you have two options: 1. spend the next half an hour stewing on this, repeating it over and over, maintaining a simmer of anger. 2. Let it go and don’t allow this trivial event to control your emotions any longer. Now which one of these is more painful?

In Buddhism, they call this the second arrow. If you are shot by an arrow, first, comes the pain of the actual arrow in your body. Second comes the additional (and optional) suffering. “This hurts. Why is this happening to me? This the the worst thing in the world.” The pain and suffering is at least doubled at least by the directions our thoughts take us.

hug-1When ‘battling’ with my thoughts and inner dialogue, I find that it is a worthwhile exercise to consider how I would respond to a loved one.

Let’s say a good friend of mine comes up and says “I’m freaking out! I’m SO nervous about this presentation! What if I embarrass myself! What do I do?!”

Would I response with “OMG! You have every reason to worry! Ahh!! Let’s freak out! You’re never going to survive that!”…Of course not.

I would tell them “Hey, no need to work yourself up about this so much. It’s not doing you any good. You’re going to rock this. You’ve done all the preparation you can do for this presentation. Would you like a hug? Let’s get a cup of tea.”

So rarely do we respond with the kind of kindness and compassion that we would a friend. But why not? We’re stuck together (with ourselves, that is) for the rest of our lives. Might as well be pleasant, right?

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