“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”
“If you desire healing,
let yourself fall ill
let yourself fall ill.”
There is a Buddhist story (The Arrow) that says most humans experience pain twice: the first time is inevitable: we either feel the pain or discomfort coming from the first encounter with the harm, the painful, the injury, the frustrating, the unfair: it may be physical or emotional pain, as if we were wounded with a first arrow.
The second arrow, however, is what Buddhist call “suffering”. While pain is inevitable (and I will argue later than in some cases we can actually avoid it because in many cases this pain, fear or discomfort may be associated with perception, vulnerability and sensibility levels), suffering is not: suffering is produced by our reactions to the first arrow, usually mental processes and actions that lead to more pain, discomfort or fear (i.e. suffering). This is like being hit by a second arrow: we complain, blame, criticize, whine and perpetuate the suffering by passing on to either ourselves or to others, extending the wound even further.
According to author Ronald Rothberg (The Engaged Spiritual Life), most of the pain (first arrow) and suffering (second arrow) we carry is hidden and even unconscious: “Afraid of certain kind of pain, we often segregate, marginalize, minimize, deny, avoid, repress, or hide the pain, when we are not simply ignorant.”
“Pain” is just a generic name that includes any discomfort: from physical pain from an injury or sickness to frustration, anger and emotional pain.
Rothberg says there are three types of hidden pain:
So what do we do with all this?
As mentioned before, our tendency is to shoot the second arrow: hide ourselves behind depleting and eroding patterns of language, gestures, actions and behaviors, some inherited, some culturally sanctioned as “appropriate” and ‘acceptable” but most of them self-destructive or dysfunctional.
What this does is perpetuates the cycle of harm, pain and suffering for us as individuals, for our relationships (families, friends, groups, etc.) and for our local and global communities.
Buddhism proposes other ways to deal with this “second arrow”:
Thich Nhat Hanh, the founder of the concept of “engaged Buddhism” said:
“Do not avoid contact with suffering or close your eyes before suffering. Do not lose awareness of the existence of suffering in the life of the world. Find ways to be with those who are suffering by all means, including personal contact and visits, images, sound. By such means awaken yourself and others to the reality of suffering in the world.”
I invite you to open yourself to your own suffering by following the suggested steps above (Rothberg) and by trying this “Truth Mandala” by Joanna Macy (“Coming Back to Life”), you can try this with a friend or family member, and if you are a good facilitator, you can also try this with a group which dynamics may be suffering from hidden pain, discomfort, anger and frustration.
When considering this, remember the steps that include starting with small pains (“start small and slow” permaculture principle); observe and take audit of patterns, reactions, triggers and effects (“observe and interact” and “accept feedback” principles from permaculture), utilize indirect approaches when appropriate from those who may facilitate the process for you (“use natural and renewable resources”, “use the edges” and “embrace diversity” permaculture principles)…a good friend, a healer, a counsellor, a good book may help you if are not yet strong enough:
Let the pain guide you to engaged compassion and ethical change/action.
“The heart that
breaks open can
~ Joanna Macy
References and resources:
Category: Accepting Pain for the world, Active Hope, Awareness, Beyond Sustainability, Buddhism, Building resilience, Conflict Resolution, Empowerment, Engaged Buddhism, Grief, Living the truth, Meditation, mental health, Pain, Resilience, Right Livelihood, Self reliance, Social Justice