The Second Arrow: A Practice In Pain Management

I don't often attend yoga classes. I freely admit this. With the numerous injuries amassed over the years it is easier and less painful to simply do my own practice in a way that I know will leave me with little pain. It's a fine line. Yoga keeps my body healthy. And yoga reminds me that asana is not the only practice.

Sometimes, however, I miss the warm studio, the energy and breath of the group all moving together in quiet connection like an ocean wave. And I miss my favourite teacher and her soft chant at the end of class that sings to my spirit while in savasana. So I pack up my mat and water bottle and head to class. I practice letting go of the thought of how much this pose will aggravate that injury, or that pose is causing discomfort in this joint. I breathe and release and remember the guidance of one of our great teachers.

Once in a while you hear a teaching or story that blows open a whole new perspective. It provides both insight into how you've been living and guidance on how to continue living.

Do Not Magnify Your Pain

As I recently listened to Thich Nhat Hanh's recorded talk on mindfulness practice, I was struck by one of his analogies.

He was speaking about pain in the body and painful thoughts. He talked about not magnifying your pain. He likened it to being struck by an arrow. He said if you are struck in the shoulder with an arrow, there is pain. Just the pain that is there.

If, however, you are struck by a second arrow in the same place, the pain is not only doubled, it can be tenfold or more. He was speaking about acknowledging the pain that is there without fixating on it so much that you create more pain for yourself.

I understood his analogy in relation to my physical, mental and emotional well-being; acknowledging what is there – pain, frustration, anger, fatigue - without amplifying it. Then a door blew open and I saw how his example related to our relationship with others. Suddenly I saw arrows everywhere.

Arrows Everywhere

When we gossip or tease, the first shot is fired and it hits its mark. If the gossip goes no further, neither does the pain. When it continues, however, with more people taking aim, then the suffering of that person is magnified through the arrows of the community.

When we argue, we fire an arrow. We resolve that argument, often healing the wound. But if we bring it up again in future arguments, we have essentially fired a second arrow into an old wound, again magnifying the pain for that person and ourselves.

When something difficult happens to someone we often immediately drop into, Oh, how awful. Oh I feel so sorry for them. Feelings of pity, anger, and helplessness ensue. This is natural; however, if we remain in this state, we continue to send arrows toward that person who may also be carrying these feelings.

Ceasing the Onslaught of Pain

If, instead, we simply sit with what is there, for us and for them, we cease the onslaught of arrows. We may also ask ourselves what emotions would be helpful for this person at this time. We can feel strength, courage, happiness, healing, peacefulness. Sending these feelings provides a balm for the arrow's strike and a strengthening of our own spirit.

Remembering a painful experience over and over is akin to shooting more arrows into an already open wound.

Continuing to think the same negative thoughts over again, continues to fire arrows into a tender place. Repeatedly feeling the same stressful emotions continues to shoot arrows into an already stressed system.

As I watch my thoughts and feel any physical pain in my body while on my mat or off, I remind myself to feel only what is there and not to magnify it. When I practice in this way my body and mind relax and the pain subsides. As I move through my day, I extend that practice into relating with others.

I remind myself, "Don't shoot a second arrow."

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