The Two Arrows of Pain

Returning from a soul care retreat, I arrived home, unpacked my bag and took a few moments to sit in a quiet space. My shoulders felt relaxed, mind cleared and knees a bit sore from walking the hills. Thoughts went to the stories I had received, some humorous, some vulnerable and gratefulness welled up in me; it was truly a rich time.

While I always hope the “good feelings” will stay, I am often surprised how quickly they can be replaced with stress. Within only 2 days of returning from this wonderful weekend, I experienced a “daily life event” triggering such stress in me it took everything I had to emotionally stay in the room. My shoulders re-tightened, my mind packed itself with thoughts and my refreshing retreat hang-over was only a fleeting thought. My mind thought it was a relatively small issue: my body responded differently.

After a time away we often can feel quite remarkable and refreshed, swearing we need to do “this more often.” That is true! Taking time away is vital to our well-being, whether in the form of three deep breaths during work, a 10 minute early morning fresh air walk, or a few days away from daily life.

There are other times we come back to “real life” and as we find ourselves back into the “thick of things” and reverting to our regular patterns of survival. Why do we do this? The easy answer is: because we are human. The deeper question is: what are the triggers in our own selves that seem to throw us a curve when our intentions are so very good?

One answer can be found in the Buddhist story of Two Arrows. It is said, when we experience something painful, this is the first arrow. It can be the loss of a job, a harsh word received, an illness or death, unexpected news, a body response of tension or pain. There is nothing we can doing in life to avoid the first arrow, it is part of life. The second arrow is “optional” – meaning we can often doing something about it, because the second arrow is our response to the pain of the first arrow.

To be aware there are two arrows is vital to our resiliency. Usually we stir to two together creating a cocktail that sits in our bellies for days or weeks, eating away at our sense of well-being. To realize the pain we receive from the first event, be it large or small, is DIFFERENT from the discomfort we continue to experience from our reaction to the first arrow is eye opening. There is no judgment about the second arrow. It is as it is. However to consider where the first arrow ends, and the second arrows begins can help us see what we can change, and what we cannot.

A famous quote came from American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” So it is with the story of the two arrows. This week, as you experience first arrows, observe your response to that arrow without judgment. Don’t try to change anything yet. Just observe. What do you see?

Create the week you would like to experience,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s