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Double the trouble (2 minute read)

Updated: Jun 12

(Trigger warning domestic violence)

Today I am Mindfully contemplating secondary suffering - The Buddha calls it, ‘The second arrow of suffering’. A simple description is 'adding to our own pain'.

The Buddhists use a parable to explain the idea of how we add to our own pain: any time we suffer misfortune, two arrows fly our way. Being struck by an arrow is painful. Being struck by a second arrow is even more painful. But worse, the second arrow is our own choice and can be avoided or at least managed better.

The Buddha explained: “In life, we can’t always control the first arrow (pain). However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. The second arrow (suffering) is optional.”

I will give an example that I’ve been grappling with. We lose people and pets and things we love…. A few weeks ago, I lost my best friend, from university days, whose husband is now, very terribly, facing trial for murder. I can tell you I suffered many, many second arrows coming my way: why didn’t I know (guilt)? How could that happen (powerlessness)? How could he do that to her (fury)? Why has she and her children lost so much (sadness)?

Second arrows come with any suffering. It’s because we are human and we don’t like the unavoidable reality of impermanence' we grasp onto positive things and are averse and try to avoid Dhukha, the Buddhist term for suffering. We are human. That's survival. That's in our natures.

The solution to this added suffering of 'extra' or 'linked' secondary suffering, is, I have found, noticing and allowing and holding the feelings of the pain of the first arrow. My mantra which I find helps me to do that is: ‘Soften, soothe, allow….’ Avoiding pain is also suffering.

Then I notice the second arrows as they arrive. I allow compassion to myself not judgement (that would be a third arrow) for being human and not liking impermanence or Dhukha and for the second arrow responses.

I keep practising love and peace, to steady myself and allow loving kindness for all living things. This helps me to usually wrap up the tips of the second arrows. I try to pass compassion on to others instead of judgement or anger and compassion for myself for sadness and sorrow, grief and anger. I reassure myself that nothing is permanent, even pain and suffering. I reflect on the failings of being human as a basic reality not personal to me. I remind myself that with suffering can come healing and wisdom, a greater sense of truth and reality and so open myself to feel what I feel and look after myself through that pain.

It’s a high aspiration indeed, I know. But it truly is a better use of our energy than repeated injury and pain from second arrows.

With great loving kindness if you’re suffering and working to reduce your second arrows.

Please do get in touch if you would like support to process any difficult experiences you are struggling with. I work from Malvern or can do Zoom sessions.


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