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Stop Shooting Arrows

--by Thanissaro Bhikku (Mar 11, 2013)


The Buddha compares pain with being shot by arrows. Physical pain is like being shot with one arrow, but then on top of that you shoot yourself with another arrow, the anguish you build up around the pain, is totally optional. When you've got a body, there are going to be pains. Even the Buddha had physical pains after his Awakening, but the difference is that he knew how not to shoot himself with those unnecessary second, third, fourth, and fifth arrows. And as it turns out, those are the ones that really hurt. Those are the ones causing the problems.

But you can't just go marching in and say to yourself, "Okay, you! Out! Stop! Stop shooting arrows!" You've got to learn to see where the dividing line is between the physical pain and the mental pain. You do that by experimenting with the breath, experimenting with the labels you put on the pain, asking yourself questions about the pain — and sometimes the strange questions are the ones that ferret out the strange attitudes you've built up around the pain. For instance, you can ask, "What shape does the pain have?" It sounds like a strange question, but when you pursue it you find that your imagination has actually given the pain a shape. What happens when you don't give it a shape? How does the pain move around? Is it moving around on its own or is it moving around because you're pushing it around? These are things you have to learn through experiment. It's only through experimentation that things begin to divide out on their own. In other words if you go in with preconceived notions, "The dividing line has to be here, or there," it turns out that that's not the case at all. You're forcing your ignorance onto the pain which, of course, just makes it worse.

So you've got to learn how to experiment. How do changes in the breathing change the pain? How do changes in your concept of the pain change the pain? How about changes in your concept of how the mind relates to the body: Is the mind in the body? Is the body in the mind? Where in the body is the mind? These may seem like strange questions, but you begin to realize that the mind on an unarticulated level actually does think in those terms. And a lot of our basic assumptions of where the center of our awareness is, where the pain is in relation to that center, and how it affects that center: These play an important role in how we experience the pain and how we make ourselves suffer unnecessarily from it. So you have to experiment and test things.


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22 Previous Reflections:

 
On Mar 19, 2013 MaryAnn wrote:
 Such a blessing, this wisdom, and my message to the now.  I have had deep chest congestion for 3 months now.  Its gift is that it has made me stop and listen to my body,  and led me to a place of enlightenment.  yet I have been frustrated that the coughing continues and leave me feeling light-headed and tired.  Your reading changed my perception of this process.  The coughing is a release of old unusable debris and the light headedness,  a momentary adjustment to a slightly higher vibration.  I can be at peace with this process.

On Mar 14, 2013 Kathy wrote:
It is true that  pain can be visualised and materialised, eg. tight knots and lightning bolts.  When awareness is brought to focus on these, a shift occurs . Consistent awareness practice  leads to resolution and peace.  Much learning occurs in-between.

On Mar 13, 2013 Barbara wrote:
 I have always found that by concentrating on a headache, going in to where it is,then  it no longer exists.

On Mar 12, 2013 Miquela wrote:
 The body itself is a microcosm of the macrocosm that we chose to live in and that is created by our own reflections of our inner workings. Pain is an indicator that something is wrong and a way for not only our body but our higher self to alert us to a problem or lesson. Pain is a great teacher. It gives us the opportunity to grow and enhance our experience.

On Mar 12, 2013 Jim Reeves wrote:
 Anyone have a metaphor for hip pain?  such as shouldering too much responsibiiity or carrying too heavy a load.

On Mar 12, 2013 Tamilyn wrote:
 beautiful explanation ..i often envision lil beings marching out to explore the pain whenever in my body or mind it lies and start will them to start the healing soon as pain strikes then i do my part to heal externally as well as call on universe to do its part , i find this "visioning" useful especially when i am in a situation where i cant necessarily use other methods of pain control ..Reiki healers ,until you learn to master pain yourself.... are the directors of these healing armies within us,imho .. :)

On Mar 12, 2013 smile wrote:

It is to see, what it is, "AS IT IS", and not what I make of it. Pain or joy both are multiplied as and when I want them too, whether I am aware or not.  If it a physical pain observe and treat, don't sit on it or distract yourself. If pain in mental ( someone said something bad to you or you lost something, etc.) face it and acknowledge it. Distraction to something brighter side just hides it; sometimes skin deep other times bone deep. It showers back at you, now being more or less than before. Just when life bring on that right moment for it to surface. Hence increasing the pile of the burden. Watching breathing as he describes, helps to acknowledge and face so I don't stack it up for future and I don't multiply. I wouldn't say this unless I am going through some and know it has helped me. I have my detours from path all the time. Thanks for helping me. It is like a string that does not let me go too far : ) wish best for all. Smiles  See full.

It is to see, what it is, "AS IT IS", and not what I make of it. Pain or joy both are multiplied as and when I want them too, whether I am aware or not.  If it a physical pain observe and treat, don't sit on it or distract yourself. If pain in mental ( someone said something bad to you or you lost something, etc.) face it and acknowledge it. Distraction to something brighter side just hides it; sometimes skin deep other times bone deep. It showers back at you, now being more or less than before. Just when life bring on that right moment for it to surface. Hence increasing the pile of the burden.
Watching breathing as he describes, helps to acknowledge and face so I don't stack it up for future and I don't multiply.
I wouldn't say this unless I am going through some and know it has helped me. I have my detours from path all the time. Thanks for helping me. It is like a string that does not let me go too far : )

wish best for all.
Smiles

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On Mar 12, 2013 Jagdish P Dave wrote:

 I have been experiencing  chronic pain in my shoulders. It affects my sleep and makes me tired. I know the cause of pain and suffering -taking care of my life partner for two years and her passing away six months ago. I tried to take care of my pain and suffering during these tough years lovingly shouldering responsibility of taking care of my beloved. The demand was more than I could handle. After she passed away I became more cognizant of my ongoing pain. Shouldering  necessary and heavy responsibility has caused  pain in my shoulders. I become mindful of my pain, my breathing , my thoughts and accompanying feelings and let them come and go. I do it for a short time during the day and spend more time before I go to sleep and after I wake up. This holistic way of mindfully working on my self has been helpful in reducing my emotional suffering slowly and gradually and also reducing my physical pain. My sleep is getting more restful and I am able to feel m  See full.

 I have been experiencing  chronic pain in my shoulders. It affects my sleep and makes me tired. I know the cause of pain and suffering -taking care of my life partner for two years and her passing away six months ago. I tried to take care of my pain and suffering during these tough years lovingly shouldering responsibility of taking care of my beloved. The demand was more than I could handle. After she passed away I became more cognizant of my ongoing pain. Shouldering  necessary and heavy responsibility has caused  pain in my shoulders. I become mindful of my pain, my breathing , my thoughts and accompanying feelings and let them come and go. I do it for a short time during the day and spend more time before I go to sleep and after I wake up. This holistic way of mindfully working on my self has been helpful in reducing my emotional suffering slowly and gradually and also reducing my physical pain. My sleep is getting more restful and I am able to feel more energy. Mind, Body and Breath are three interrelated sides of my being. How I relate to them is my choice.

Jagdish P  Dave

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On Mar 12, 2013 Jim Foley wrote:
 There's actually a brain basis for the Buddha's wisdom; the emotional part of the pain experience, the negative label, is a completely separate process. There are parallels with purely emotional pain too; my work with clients who are depressed, for example, sometimes has to start with ending their depression about the depression (self-shaming comments about not coping better). With anxiety problems, it is so often the extra arrow of anxiety about the anxiety that leads to the real suffering, the obssessing, compulsions, avoidance; I teach people the image of letting the anxiety rise and fall like a wave passing you on the beach rather than fighting the waves or running from each one.

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On Mar 12, 2013 vida wrote:
 by being present there is no pain what ever it is ,it is awareness

On Mar 11, 2013 Manish wrote:
 I guess the idea here is to stay away from mental anguish due to physical pain and so the following comment maybe besides the point and purely about physical body but for whatever its worth.....

Based on my experience with the back pain, I wish I had cared about the small physical pains I was going through and not ignored them because after about 6 months of ignoring the pain, the situation became so bad that I went through years of chronic pain (and related anguish) due to inaction early on. Again, I understand that this is not the point here :) and the focus here is on controlling the anguish due to pain but just wanted to throw out a practical aspect of why its important to understand the root cause of any pain even if its small. If you don't, things could get worse if the root cause worsens. 

On Mar 11, 2013 Amy wrote:

 In taking my 'brood of boys' to school this morn, I listened to a number of people respond to the question . . . 'What's Your Bright Side'?  (on a local radio station) People having more reasons to wake up on their "cloudy-side" shared stories of hope, happiness, attitudes of gratitude . . . LIFE!  What a fabulous way to wake up in the morning! Today, I have a choice!  I can live "beneath" . . .  "in" . . . or "on top" of my pain?  Most often, I fluctuate in and thru the three . . . but my "end of day score" needs to be "on top".    I am NOT a very competitive person . . . but in this, I want to win.  Why?  Because, Jesus did. Focus on your BRIGHT, LIGHT, SUNNY - SIDE!  Arrows most likely to be shot in the dark! It is our responsibility, as Christians, to take arrows out of the hands of our siblings!  We are family.  Love never far aw  See full.

 In taking my 'brood of boys' to school this morn, I listened to a number of people respond to the question . . . 'What's Your Bright Side'?  (on a local radio station)
People having more reasons to wake up on their "cloudy-side" shared stories of hope, happiness, attitudes of gratitude . . . LIFE!  What a fabulous way to wake up in the morning!
Today, I have a choice!  I can live "beneath" . . .  "in" . . . or "on top" of my pain?  Most often, I fluctuate in and thru the three . . . but my "end of day score" needs to be "on top".   
I am NOT a very competitive person . . . but in this, I want to win.  Why?  Because, Jesus did.


Focus on your BRIGHT, LIGHT, SUNNY - SIDE!  Arrows most likely to be shot in the dark!

It is our responsibility, as Christians, to take arrows out of the hands of our siblings!  We are family.  Love never far away.  

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On Mar 10, 2013 Edit Lak wrote:

Yes the shooting arrow, and then more arrows, and then the war of many more life-time arrows. Cupid shot one arrow for love, but we shoot the rest of those arrows for self punishment and self feeling and we begin to feel that pain and  punishment is the way to move forward in life and in society, it’s how to cope and how to hide and ‘mask’ our uniqueness of growing. How messed up can we get, the more we disconnect the more we hurt self, and that hurt is to make us feel better.. Wrong wrong, wrong, but it happens every day, and,  it happens with people lighting a cigarette, having many drinks, binging, purging, cutting, scabbing, hating, ego-mania, gambling, gaming and bullying. The one I see most often is some youth looking down to the ground and not looking up and around, looking down because self worth cannot lift its head, that neck arrow must hurt. In the computer age, the age of so easy, where everything is done instantly where we are actually are given  See full.

Yes the shooting arrow, and then more arrows, and then the war of many more life-time arrows. Cupid shot one arrow for love, but we shoot the rest of those arrows for self punishment and self feeling and we begin to feel that pain and  punishment is the way to move forward in life and in society, it’s how to cope and how to hide and ‘mask’ our uniqueness of growing. How messed up can we get, the more we disconnect the more we hurt self, and that hurt is to make us feel better.. Wrong wrong, wrong, but it happens every day, and,  it happens with people lighting a cigarette, having many drinks, binging, purging, cutting, scabbing, hating, ego-mania, gambling, gaming and bullying. The one I see most often is some youth looking down to the ground and not looking up and around, looking down because self worth cannot lift its head, that neck arrow must hurt. In the computer age, the age of so easy, where everything is done instantly where we are actually are given more time, that’s more quality life time to live, so we punish ourselves by disconnecting from our ‘time’ to give us arrow time, to keep shooting more and more arrows and arrows, and the self made guru that sits on the bench and does nothing because he/she is wisdom’ catching has just as many arrow holes in self as the mother, father. child, student, person in the self sabotaging realm of consciousness awareness. So in what school do they teach us not to hurt self and instead to heal and not give shape to pain, in what community is precious life taught, in what part of the world does love come before pain? Well there are some places and cultures in this world that do practice self, love and healing, but it is most probably the smallest minority of the global population. So where are we really then , still shooting arrows no matter how small, cause I know;  ‘No one can kick me, as hard as I can kick myself for doing a bad job’ Where the hell did this thought come from? Oh that’s it, from my school, from home, from the workplace from striving to do the best..  Oh my, it is so imperative that we do change our breath, our thought and our way of being.  Thanissaro Bhikku is correct, the thought and writing is correct for us to experiment and test things out by playing with shapes and colors and thoughts. To think outside of the square to break free of self scars and self punishments. Our memory has pain, memory is not intelligent, it remembers pain, do we need to to stand in front of a car everyday and get run over to know pain - no, the body brings enough old age pain prangs that holds a lifetime of memory in it self, but self hurt must stop..  A lesson for me in this, much gratitude for open life lessons and continual learning xoxo

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On Mar 10, 2013 david doane wrote:
 I agree that it's the metaphorical second, third, fourth, and fifth arrows that I shoot at myself that create unnecessary pain.  Pain is part of life -- examined or unexamined, there will be pain.  We'll never eliminate pain -- there is no such thing as painless living  Suffering, on the other hand, is how we bear the pain, deal with it, relate to it.  Pain and suffering are different and related phenomena. The challenge is to suffer or carry our pain in a way that is efficient and economical.  The pain will still be there -- it's just more bearable if we bear it wisely and don't make it worse by our way of bearing it.  I'm not recalling a specific experience, but this awareness helps me to more efficiently suffer any pain.  How we experience our pain is important because it is part of how we suffer our pain, and it can help us to suffer it in that way that doesn't create additional and unnecessary pain. 

On Mar 8, 2013 Conrad P. Pritscher wrote:
 Pain, at times, exists.  Suffering exists when we are attached to "no pain."  Accepting some pain can remove suffering caused by the second, and third etc. arrows which are often self-inflicted.  I have seen people get rid of headaches, for instance, by giving the headache pain a shape, then a color, then moving them around their head, and then finally, attaching balloons or some other imaginary device to move them above the head at which time the pain ceases. sSlf hypnosis is another powerful tool to help  rid one of pain.Thanks for another excellent article. Warm and kind regards to everyone

On Mar 8, 2013 Thierry wrote:

 It seems to me that what the author is talking about is how undisciplined thought can make worse any physical pain condition. He is not denying the reality of physical pain. Anybody with, say, arthritis will confirm that arthritic pain moves from the knees to the ankles, from the dorsal vertebras to the lumbar region without much pulling or pushing from the part of the sufferer. Physical pain can have a shape that ows nothing to imagination. It can be in the shape of a stomach pain, a pain circumscribed to the area of the stomach and digestive track. Nothing imaginary or mental  here: the pain is factually referred to the part of the body that suffers. And then the mental, secondary, reactions to pain under the form of remembrance, anticipation, worry or depression. Where to draw the line? At one end physical pain can be created by the psyche as with psychosomatic ailments. At the other end, pain unrelated with psyche as with genetic or degenerative diseases. I fee  See full.

 It seems to me that what the author is talking about is how undisciplined thought can make worse any physical pain condition. He is not denying the reality of physical pain.
Anybody with, say, arthritis will confirm that arthritic pain moves from the knees to the ankles, from the dorsal vertebras to the lumbar region without much pulling or pushing from the part of the sufferer. Physical pain can have a shape that ows nothing to imagination. It can be in the shape of a stomach pain, a pain circumscribed to the area of the stomach and digestive track. Nothing imaginary or mental  here: the pain is factually referred to the part of the body that suffers. And then the mental, secondary, reactions to pain under the form of remembrance, anticipation, worry or depression.
Where to draw the line? At one end physical pain can be created by the psyche as with psychosomatic ailments. At the other end, pain unrelated with psyche as with genetic or degenerative diseases. I feel the author is right to say one should'nt superimpose one's ignorance onto the pain.
When I ask the question is the mind in the body or is the body in the mind, where would the answer be likely to come from: from the mind, if it could answer. But the question is so baffling it silences the mind. At that moment there is only pain and no mind trying to deal with it. In this respect animals have an advantage over us humans. A cat suffering from severe kidney pain does'nt move or maul. It does'nt lose one ounce of its energy battling the pain.

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