Let Fly The Second Arrow

There is this idea in Buddhism that one experiences pain in two ways. The first arrow that you are hit with is the pain itself, physical or mental. Like the sharp pain of a recent injury, for example, or the pain of missing a loved one. This arrow is bad, but arguably tolerable. It is pure, uncomplicated, the sensation that you feel before thought begins.

The second arrow is where the suffering occurs. This second arrow that hits you is your reaction to the pain. Once this arrow hits, if you are not able to remove it for whatever reason, the dance between you and your pain really begins. Think about a time that this has been intense for you. We’ve all had them; think about that one time you got food poisoning or that terrible migraine in the bathroom at work, or when broke your arm or threw out your back. You were so sick, hurting so much, that you thought, “I can’t do this…this is terrible…I’ve got to go to the ER…make it stop…oh God!”

The pain is real, it is there no doubt. But what I’m describing is this situation where you are so locked in, you are dancing with Pain as your partner. The song plays and you cannot change partners or even see anything else in the room but your partner Pain. There is nothing but the two of you. Nothing else in the world matters, and Pain came to dance with you and that is all you know. Sometimes, you think the song is ending and ultimately it does, but for that dance you are stuck with it and your thoughts.

There are times that this happens and the situation is not dire, but the consistent feature is that our thoughts carry us along with the music. The thoughts of “why do I hurt like this? There must be something wrong! When will it end? Am I going to die? I can’t do this any longer.” The thoughts are the worst part- the second arrow- the suffering that gives power to the pain. Even with this awareness, herein lies the great challenge- to remove the second arrow and just experience the sensation of pain alone.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Lessons I’ve Learned from Taking Prescription Painkillers (Part 1) | Farmer Leda

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