A few weeks ago I went to my first meditation class at The Den. The topic of focus was “second arrows”:
“When hit with discomfort, the conventional reaction is to whine and regret, kick oneself, take it hard. So we feel two afflictions: 1) the inevitable, physical feelings [a first arrow the world blasts us with] and 2) the additional, mental reactions [the second arrow we shoot into ourself]. We may fail to note any relief or escape from uncomfortable feelings [the first arrow] other than to distract ourselves with sensual pleasure. So we cling to diversions, rather than observing what is actually present, the arising and passing of feelings.”
—The Buddha, The Arrow Sutta
I think it’s important to allow that first “arrow” to hit you–a break up, the loss of a job, betrayal, etc but forbidding it from having a last effect. Initially, there will be that hollow feeling in your chest, a burning in your stomach and that rage that seems to envelop you (fight or flight response/sympathetic nervous system). But your thoughts surrounding these sensations either amplify them or control them. If you feel that burning sensation in your gut and say to yourself “I’m feeling rage,” you’re going to make it worse. It’s such a quick cycle so it takes a lot of practice but it is your choice as to which course of action to take.
I’ve had my fair share of these situations and I’ve definitely shot those second arrows–especially during my last breakup. A friend reminded me of this Buddhist ideal when I was feeling especially upset and it helped me check myself. I realized exactly what I was doing and how it wasn’t serving me in any way. This is where the buzzword we all love to hear people talk about–“mindfulness”–comes in. Something I practice often is getting myself out of unnecessary deep thought–if I’m driving, I drive; if I’m eating, I focus on that; if I’m reading, I pay attention to each word and process it. All of this takes concentration and practice but the physical sensations and reactions to situations do go away over time.
There are innumerable self-guided meditation videos and articles online but I highly encourage a group setting class. The social obligation of staying the entire time has prevented me from leaving classes when I’ve gotten anxious or lost my ability to concentrate. Because who wants to be that disruptive person that leaves early?
And if you’re like me, fresh out of a tumultuous relationship, don’t shoot those second arrows. Don’t go through old texts and think to yourself, “but he/she said…” Delete those messages and let it be. Understand that the only things you have control over are your actions and thoughts.