The Story that Taught me to Let Go Unnecessary Suffering

This week I published on my Instagram account a video of Pema Chödrön explaining how the way we label the situation at hand determines if we feel happy or sad about it.

I love the simplicity and depth of this video, and I often return to it.

In the video, Pema Chödrön says:

The rain remains just the rain. The sound remains the same. How we label it determines whether we’re happy or sad.

We are judgmental beings and continuously attach our labels or expectations to everything around us, and that’s perfectly fine.

Many times it serves us well.

The problem arises when the reality doesn’t match our expectations.

  • “It should have been sunny today.”

  • “Moving country won’t be so hard.”
  • “I have to enjoy every moment of parenthood.”
  • “People should recognise my worth.”

Can you relate to any of these expectations?

What do you feel in your body while reading them?

Often, the fear, resistance, tension, shame, and guilt we add to it are a substantial cause of suffering, more than the situation itself.

I want to share with you a Buddhist Parabole that I heard for the first time during my first Vipassana Retreat last autumn that was eye-opening for me.

The Parable of the Second Arrow

The Buddhists say that any time we go through something unpleasant, two arrows fly our way.

Being struck by an arrow is painful. Being struck by a second arrow is even more painful.

The First Arrow is the actual misfortune. It can be a pain or an unmet expectation.

The Second Arrow is the story, fear, shame, guilt and anything that we create around it.

Buddhist literature explains:

“In life, we can’t always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. The second arrow is optional.”

I can clearly see it in my journey with chronic pain of Endometriosis and Vulvodynia.

The story of shame and guilt I build around it is at least as harmful as the physical pain itself.

When I get stuck in my story and feel bad for being a bad partner, and I get mad at my body for betraying me, I am dealing with the second ‘optional’ arrow, not the first one.

My practice of recognising it already eases an enormous slice of the suffering, but it isn’t easy.

In Conclusion..

We probably deal with the Second Arrow many times during the day.

We shouldn’t try to reject our initial reaction but rather learn how to recognise it and become aware that this is not the end of the story, and we actually have the choice to change it.

Over time, being aware of it can truly help us to avoid an unnecessary layer of suffering if we choose to.

Can you relate to it when thinking about your own challenges?

When was the last time you found yourself in a situation where your own labelling affected your experience?

If you’d like any help going through this, I am one click away.

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Thank you for reading until here.

Much love,