This week I am opinionated.
“Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”.
The Buddha used an example of being struck by two arrows, I’m sure you know this – but what happened to me this week was a clear example. Pain in body or mind is the first arrow. Raw and pointed, it hurts as it hits home. If we can stop there, rest there – with that pain and feel into it – lean into it as Pema Chodron says – this is mindfulness. The second arrow – the optional arrow – unleashes the self-centred stories we tell ourselves about that pain and where it comes from – the ‘poor me’ – which brings unnecessary and additional suffering. The suffering brought by the second arrow, is optional.
This week I had an arrow come my way, delivered by a person I hold dear, which got me good and proper, right where it hurt– I felt it like a blow and my body responded with an armour plated tensing of the whole front of my body while everything behind that shrivelled a little and tried to hide in a dark hole. I was hurt. I continued to chat, while my mind reeled to make sense of the ‘attack’ in the context of what I had just been saying. The arrow? “You are being so opinionated!”
An arrow! My mindfulness inner voice declared gleefully. Joy and celebration at the instant mindful interception; but with a simultaneous noticing of the much more subtle second arrow hitting more like in slow motion… “Reified I” – the solid sense of ME reeling and feeling ‘hurt’ (“who is hurt”? a teacher once asked – good question!). Curiously, I could see my brain’s ‘default mode network’ (DMN) i.e. my habitual tendency and conditioning (which you may know as the voice in the head which creates the ‘storyline’)- was equally triggered and I found myself in a strange liminal world watching the two worlds unfold, while I was still in conversation.
I observed a strong urge to defend my position and to deny, and yet was equally able to engage the mindfulness skills and soften around that hardness; allowing the painful feeling to be there, and to be open to accepting the accusation levelled at me and to capitulate and acknowledge to myself and the other that yes, there was an underlying agenda with the words I had said; I saw it- and it unravelled there and then. I immediately admitted that I had spoken from a place that was saying something about me and was not even relevant to the conversation, did I say sorry? I don’t know. Funny how I can’t remember… – one step at a time, says the egoic system. So the initial experience of a potentially fraught and frosty encounter melted away. To a point…
I felt quite pleased that I had managed to initially defuse the situation; however, after not too long… I could feel the second arrow was still stuck – lodged somehow, and after a little contemplation the third arrow slipped in. After the conversation and in the following hours the second arrow of self-inflicted suffering was kept niggling, with all kinds of get-out-of-jail-free options being suggested by my inner voice – that the other person may be projecting on to me, opinionated wasn’t exactly the right word etc. basically trying to wriggle out of any involvement with the whole scenario, so the DMN reasserted itself and being caught off guard the third arrow hit home – I felt sorry for myself, affronted and a bit sad with a tinge of guilt thrown in about the whole encounter, I was ashamed that I had said something that had been perceived as opinionated. The third arrow, suggested by meditation teacher Clive Holmes at Samye Ling is the arrow of self-doubt, it seems to deflate the ego with its puncture and for me here and now, it took me into a really bleak place where I didn’t feel like a very nice person. I felt shame, and a mindfulness failure. It didn’t help that I looked up google just to see how awful a human being I am. It confirmed the worst:
Opinionated: characterized by conceited assertiveness and dogmatism. Ouch!
That prickles. It’s not the first time I’ve been called opinionated, and at the same time as my poor wounded ego being ‘hurt’ and ‘affronted’ at being called such a thing yet again, I am laughing inside at the opportunity of a great big juicy opportunity to delve deeper with that accusation, and really have a good look at this; another layer of conditioning about to peel away.
Have you been struck with an arrow this week? Can you look out for the second arrow and possibly the third?
If you are feeling anger, irritation, sorry for yourself, the second arrow may have struck you already. Can you trace the suffering back to the root cause and rest there? It’s a great practice in recognizing self-inflicted suffering. And when the inevitable third arrow strikes? Sit down with a compassion practice. You can find compassion meditations on our app, and recorded video meditations here on our great youtube channel to support you.
Take care and watch out for those arrows!