So, yes, there are inevitable losses in life.
For instance we will all lose our childhood and our middle age (if we live long enough), and eventually we will lose our body. Along the way we will also suffer disappointment and heartbreak.
These inevitable sorrows are what the Buddha called the first arrow.
The first arrow will hit us, but we have choice about the next one.
The second arrow is our story about what happened. When we moan and groan, blame and complain, declaring life to be unfair, we are adding a layer—our interpretation—on top of the event.
This creates misery, unnecessary suffering. As if the first arrow wasn’t enough!
We layer our stories over events and then carry them on our backs. Our stories morph into our attitudes.
We see life through the lens of our belief.
The good news is that we have control over how we interpret events. We make a story about happenings. But they are just stories.
Sometimes our story is to deny pain and suffering and pretend it didn’t bother us, or that we are above it. Perhaps we believe we got over that event long ago. But did we?
The first arrow would have healed long ago if we hadn’t kept it alive in our mind. Or buried it in our unconscious where it still sets the tone of our days and nights. It does its work underground.
The second arrow is that which brings about depression, bitterness, cynicism and the feeling of being a victim.
These are beliefs and attitudes and they are inside our head. They also lodge in our body. They are not a result of what has happened. They are a result of how we interpreted what happened.
This is unnecessary suffering.
“We don’t see what is out there. We see as we are,” says neuroscientist David Eagleman on his TV series called “The Brain” aired on PBS.
That is amazing information! It’s so natural to think we are seeing what is “out there,” but it is we who give what we see and sense the color and shape it has.
We decide if it’s friendly or dangerous according to how we see it. And through these interpretations we develop our beliefs about who we are and what life is.
Growing up I somehow got the belief that if I did all the right things I would be saved from all the unpleasantness and pain in the world. Somehow I could circumvent it.
What an illusion!
It was certainly depressing to admit this, but what it brought me is a greater sense of equanimity and serenity.
I know that I can’t control events, but I do have a great deal of influence.
I decide how I am going to respond. I can reflect before taking action. I can practice mindfulness. I can watch my own mind—the one that creates all these stories.
I can pause before acting, and thus not simply react unconsciously.
By reeling in my projections, anger and blame I am taking responsibility for what I am thinking this moment and noticing each emotion as it arises.
As I do I find the mind calms and I have more freedom in how I am going to respond to what arises.
Being with each moment, investigating how I am engaging with it I find there is less upset about what happens.
I can accept the emotions that flow through me. I can realize this is the way things are for now, and they will change. I can remind myself of this over and over.
This is a compassionate view of life.
As I look back I see that what looked like a tragedy eventually turned out to be a great opportunity.
I just needed to live through the necessary suffering without adding my laments to it!
My belief that everything eventually works for the greatest good for myself and all others truly has helped. This doesn’t prevent my crying over things, and grieving. But it helps me through them.
As a wise Lama once said, “What the soul calls spiritual growth, the ego calls one insult after another.”
So each seeming disaster and loss is an opportunity for something new to be born. This is how the world evolves.
Bringing light into the dark takes time, effort and much patience. I find these practices helpful:
Journal using the dialogue method
Practice Metta (lovingkindness)
Seek a wise therapist or spiritual director
Study spiritually rewarding books
Sit weekly with a Sangha
I continue to investigate. I remember these words of Rumi:
Don’t turn away.
Keep looking at the bandaged place.
That’s where the light enters you.
When there is hurt I hold my small self in my arms and remind her that she is not alone and that I feel her pain and sadness. I tell her that I’m here for her. I hold her close to me.
I gently rock her in my arms and tell her I will always be here for her.
How much she needs a caring, mature adult. I am that person!
Tears turn into joy. Sorrow into laughter.
And the grace of love shines through.