Saturday, 30 January 2010

A tale of 2 arrows

The book I'm reading just now 'Living Well with pain and illness' early on talks about a parable of The Buddha, The Arrow or in reality 2 arrows...

The Blessed One said, "When touched with a feeling of pain, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person sorrows, grieves, & laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught. So he feels two pains, physical & mental. Just as if they were to shoot a man with an arrow and, right afterward, were to shoot him with another one, so that he would feel the pains of two arrows; in the same way, when touched with a feeling of pain, the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person sorrows, grieves, & laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught. So he feels two pains, physical & mental.
There is the pain or suffering itself (the first arrow) which we may not be able to avoid and then the suffering we allow ourselves to experience due to our actions (the second arrow).

In my own case the first arrow may be painful hips and knees which is some thing present at that moment. I can rest up and take medication to try to ease that, which may or may help.

The second arrow though is my relationship to that pain and how I choose to react to it. This can possibly cause more suffering than the original pain itself, even  if the original pain is eased by rest or medication.

It's different for each of us, but in me it might trigger a reaction like 'oh no, not again I'm not going to be able to take the dog out, looking after Beren is going to be a night mare and there's no way I'll sleep with the pain in my hip tonight'. Now as well as the pain, I'm living in fear and worry of what might be rather than how it is at that time. This can then lead on to more physical and mental stress with diversionary activities, though we may try to deny them for what they are.

The Second arrow is our suffering due to resistance of reality. Some one once told me it was like a maths equation:

suffering = resistance x pain

Well in maths if you mutilply anything by zero the answer is zero. So if you remove the resistance (i.e. have acceptance) there is no suffering or pain, there is just life as it is in each passing moment. Conversely, if you increase the resistance, well you'll increase the suffering...

In Buddhism we have the four noble truths to guide us with this:

  1. Life is sufferingfrom cradle to grave there are trials of life both physical and mental

  2. There is a cause for this suffering our cravings and desires for what could be

  3. There is a way to end suffering we can realise that our attachments are the root

  4. This is  the Eight Fold Path amongst others it includes mindfulness and meditation
But even if you're not a Buddhist you can practise mindfulness, you can be aware of what is happening right now. My hip might hurt but, does all of me? Can I sit in the company of friends and enjoy a conversation or a meal? Who's to say they're in perfect health? Do I need to worry about how it'll be later or tomorrow, or can I enjoy the now? If I can learn to be mindful each moment I can experience life fully awake, not held back by unrealistic cravings of fantastic health, worries about what is expected of me or fears of what might be.

I once went to a 'here and now group' where you could only speak if you had something to say about that very moment. It was amazing to see us all trying to speak of 'the now' rather than as we usually do, talking about what we've been doing or are going to do. Being mindful of the present and your thoughts in that way can be quite an eye opener.

Meditation along with trying to be mindful is core to my practise of Buddhism. When we sit zazen (see 'Sitting Buddha' free e-book) we sit in the present, aware of our surroundings but not attaching ourselves to things that might or might not be happening, externally or internally. If thoughts come we let them float by like a cloud, we don't jump on and go for a ride like Monkey, we might acknowledge the rain hitting the window but not think 'oh gosh that means...'

Also on a physiological level, as our mind settles our body settles too. Worry of what was or might be causes stress hormones to whizz round which restrict our breathing, stopping good digestion, limitting blood to the brain and tensing our muscles ready to react to danger. To sit in the moment in zazen helps to stop the fight or flight response that is almost permanently turned on in some of us and allow the body to heal.

I have suffered with ME/CFS and many of the symptoms, fatigue, aches, IBS, brain fog are exacerbated or even caused by a constant fight or flight response being turned which happens if there is a real or even imaginary threat (on going stress for instance). In this respect it's 'the second arrow' or more likely one of a flight of arrows that is pinning us down!

The first arrow might have been an illness or long running situation of sorts which has lead us into a downward spiral fuelled by lack of professional understanding, confusion over what has happened to our lives' and when will it end.

Of course if we could all eb mindful and sit all th time it would be easy, but often those arrows just keep on flying,  on automatic, but with daily practise there can be the odd pause,  a day off and eventually, I hope, even a cease fire!

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