The Buddhists say that any time we suffer misfortune, two arrows fly our way.
The first arrow, the pain, is the actual bad event. The second arrow, the suffering, is our reaction to the bad event, the way we chose to respond emotionally.
The first arrow often is unavoidable. The second arrow often is self-inflicted.
Or to use an example from the American west of a cattle round up in a thunderstorm: the lightning strike kills one steer, the resulting stampede kills dozens more.
Avoiding the second arrow requires mature emotional awareness.
One does not avoid the second arrow by denial but by being fully present and acknowledging the emotion, even befriending it. What you resist persists. What you accept, without dwelling on it, will eventually dissipate of its own accord. Time does heal all wounds if only we will let it work its wonders, if we do not continually re-open the wound with anger or resentment or guilt or other dysfunctional “coping” mechanisms. Humans have this amazing ability to punish themselves, to continually self-sabotage their own recovery, to shoot themselves with second, third, and fourth arrows seemingly ad infinitum.
When the pain comes to mind, acknowledge it in its fullness, perhaps even briefly embrace it. But then bid it adieu and move on with your day. Be aware of the dangers of lifestyle evasions such as busyness or alcohol, or deeper psychological evasions such as denial or depression.
The best antidote to the second arrow is self-awareness and gentle correction, the ability to continually re-direct one’s mind and thoughts.
There is the saying that every time a door closes in life, another one opens. We must, however, be willing to stop pounding on the closed door in anger and frustration, wailing and bemoaning the unfairness of life, and start looking for the open door with an open heart. Also, it will help if we are open to the possibility that what we’re looking for might be an open window or simply a closed door that is unlocked. It may require imagination or effort to find our new path.
“Pain is certain, suffering is optional.” – Buddha (aka Siddhartha), circa 563 BC—483 BC, spiritual teacher from ancient India
“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that there was within me an invincible summer.” – Albert Camus, 1913-1960, French writer, who embraced the absurd, searched for moral order, winner of 1957 Nobel Prize for Literature
“Mishaps are like knives that either serve us or cut us as we grasp them by the blade or the handle.” – James Russell Lowell, 1819-1891, American Romantic poet, critic, editor, and diplomat