Learning to Stop Throwing the Second Arrow

Almost a week ago, I broke my toe. It happened around 2.36am on 11/8/19. After I did it, I stayed present and hobbled to the lounge room to see what I had done. It was very evident, I had broken it from the angle of. I was pretty sure what I needed to do (go to the hospital), however given it was early in the morning, I went back to bed for a few hours before driving to the hospital.

It took me a while to get back to sleep as I had so many thoughts running through my head – from “how could you be so stupid” to “maybe it’s not broken at all”. And of course, I also had the sensations and feelings of pain in my toe! Being a mindfulness student (and teacher), I have fortunately become quite familiar with my own patterns of thinking and the impact they can have on my wellbeing. As I was laying there in bed, I stayed with the pain and listened to my body. That way, I didn’t create the second arrow.


The Second Arrow

What this situation reminded me about was the parable about the second arrow about dealing with pain and suffering more skilfully. It is said that the Buddha once asked a student –

“If a person is struck by an arrow, is it painful? If the person is struck by a second arrow, is it even more painful?”

He then went on to explain,

“In life, we can’t always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. This second arrow is optional.”

For me, coughing and walking in the dark at the same time, resulted in a broken toe. Yes, I could have pretended it didn’t happen or wished it didn’t happen, however I knew that would not change the situation. The situation happened and I accepted it. Now, I needed to look after my toe and listen to my body so it healed.


Ready to Stop Throwing the Second Arrow?

Yes I know this is not easy, however it is possible to stop throwing the second arrow! Learning this has been a gift, however it has taken me years of unlearning, relearning and oodles of self-compassion. In mindfulness, one of the quotes that resonated with me years ago was –

Pain x acceptance (not approval) = limited or no suffering. Pain x resistance (limited or no acceptance) = suffering.

Now I can appreciate it even more and continue to practise being present within my experiences and giving myself compassion.


Over to You

Have you heard the story about the second arrow? If not, was it useful to hear? If you have heard it, was it a nice reminder? Feel free to share any questions or comments, please leave them below.


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