Often you will hear Stacey mention in her coaching that we “can’t ruin anything” (what a fabulous affirmation). One mis-step outside of our intentions, goals, health journey etc is exactly that – one mis-step. We are human. The damage that can come from a behavior we aren’t proud of comes from the judgment that we bring to the experience, the suffering we inflict on ourselves.
In Buddhist teaching humans (can) experience two arrows when something perceived as bad happens. The first arrow is the experience itself, the part we cannot change. The second arrow is our reaction to the experience, the guilt, shame, self-blame, the going inward and turning on ourselves: I am not enough, I deserve this, I am unlovable, I can’t do anything right. This is where suffering happens. It can be easy to see the suffering as inevitable, out of our hands. Of course we will feel through experiences. That is only natural – we are human after all. But how long will we stay there? How long will we remain in the cage of unhappiness – the one we unwittingly built for ourselves – before we realize that we have the choice to carry our experiences in a different way?
The First Arrow
I had a revelation one day sitting on my patio, a beautiful spring day with blue skies and high clouds. I had been suffering (and for longer than I sometimes care to realize or admit). My marriage had fallen apart, and my life as I had pictured it had changed completely. My friend circle had changed drastically, my family network shifted. It felt like there was so much to put back together, and I didn’t feel for a long time like I could possibly pick up the pieces and create a beautiful life … again. That drum beat of starting over and how much work that can take, the drum beat of again beat through my body regularly, holding me in place. This went on for some time.
The Second Arrow
Probably the shift in my understanding and perception happened slowly over time. My memory recalls it more like a lightbulb going on one day, that sweet day in spring. All of a sudden it hit me (and I had not heard of the second arrow at the time): my suffering was only hurting me.
My suffering wasn’t punishing anyone other than myself. The hurt I had allowed myself to feel so deeply was hurting only me. Maybe this sounds basic. For me it was like a symphony sounding in triumph. My suffering is only hurting me. This epiphany has stayed with me ever since, for many years. How I was choosing to carry my pain was exactly that, a choice.
On certain days I still get wrapped up in pain I don’t need to hold onto – annoyances, frustrations, interactions that don’t go how I’d hoped. The difference now is that I carry a deeper awareness with me that what I hold onto is up to me. The first arrow flies. The second arrow doesn’t have to. We can begin to recognize this pattern in our lives. First arrow flies, pause and notice. Rather than fling the second arrow of suffering on the heels of unexpected hardship, we can wrap ourselves in self-compassion, love, and gentle kindness.
photo credit: www.deathbeforedishonorcousa.com (beautiful metal jewelry)