Recently, I have found myself thinking about the various ways that I inflict unnecessary suffering on myself and into my life. This question came about after reading “No Mud. No Lotus,” By the Vietnamese Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hahn. Within “No Mud. No Lotus” Hahn essentially argues that suffering is an unavoidable part of life. His assertion that suffering and happiness are two halves of the same coin. There is no way to rid ourselves of one without obliterating the other. Consequently, it is wise to learn how to suffer well.
The analogy he presents is that life events come in the shape of an arrow. This arrow pierces our hearts and either is registered as a pleasant experience or a less than pleasant experience. This is an unavoidable part of life. However, many of us have the tendency to shoot second, third, and fourth arrows into the same exact spot in our hearts – thereby intensifying the experience of the first arrow ten-fold. These second, third, fourth, and fifth arrows are comprised of our thoughts about the first arrow, our reactive responses to the first arrow, as well as our attempts to ignore the reality of the first arrow’s presence.
The best example I have come up to date is that of a break-up. The break-up, the heart ache that may accompany the break-up, is the first arrow. The second, third, fourth, and fifth arrows happen to be our thoughts – “Why aren’t I good enough?”; “Are they thinking about me?”; “Will I always be alone.” The subsequent arrows are comprised of our reactive responses – the instances of drunk dialing the person, Facebook stalking the other person, or begging/pleading to have them take you back. Even closing yourself off from future loving relationships, feeling unable to trust that you are lovable, are part of the fourth and fifth arrows we hurl at our heart space.
We’re all aware of the fact that very rarely does this line of thinking or these types of behavior make us feel better. More often than not, these subsequent actions inflict more – perhaps unnecessary – suffering into our lives than may be necessary. And if only we were able to see that in such instances we have the power to lower the bow, we might find that we can begin to “Suffer well” as Hahn calls it.
The question I have for you, the question I am asking myself is, in which ways are consciously or unconsciously taking aim at your heart center? It may be within an intimate relationship, within your career, or even within your body. How can you begin to become aware of the first arrow and the second, third, fourth, and fifth arrows that you unconsciously fire before you’ve even taken a breath?
To aid in your expanding awareness, I would like to offer the following mantra by Thich Nhat Hahn as the entry point towards first recognizing your areas of self-imposed suffering so that you may then release them.
“As I breathe in, I know that suffering is there/here. As I breathe out, I say hello to my suffering.”
For while pain is an unavoidable part of life, we can become better equipped to suffer well instead of suffering mindlessly.