Second Arrow Syndrome: How We Multiply our Own Suffering, and How We Might Avoid It
Spiritual traditions are big on fables. One of my favorites comes from the Sallatha Sutta in the Buddhist tradition.
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.
I find myself easily frustrated these days, and it has everything to do with making myself suffer because I’m suffering. I inadvertently double down on my suffering.
This happens to all of us: we get hit with arrows every day — arrows of disappointment, arrows of loss and sorrow, arrows of dissatisfaction. Then we feel bad about feeling bad, and we shoot ourselves with a second arrow. We feel bad, then we feel worse. We spiral, and exhaust ourselves.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
The Problem is Pleasure
If I am really honest with myself, most of my stress, frustration, and lashing out comes from a feeling of discomfort. But it’s not the discomfort itself, it is my bad feeling about discomfort that creates problems.
I am so obsessed with pleasure and comfort, that I cannot even handle the thought of discomfort or pain. I contort myself in myriad ways to avoid them. And that is precisely the problem. Because in my push to chase pleasure and comfort for so long, I have robbed myself of one of the most beneficial traits that anyone can have: being able to accept and work through discomfort and pain.
And I am not alone. I am surrounded by fellow pleasure seekers, who’s inclination toward satisfaction and desire for continuous pleasure are being constantly reinforce by a deluge of media and marketing efforts. We swipe left and right, we refresh, and reframe. We skip past the waiting, we circumvent moments alone and moments of silent…