There are few things that uncle Fernando likes more than getting a rise out of other people. I don’t have much cool to spare, and Tio Nando made has me lose whatever little I have on more than one occasion.
Rubbing salt on the wound, once you’re seething, he will lecture you on the importance of not getting annoyed. “O que me irrita me domina” he likes to say - that which irritates me, dominates me.
I might not agree with his methods, but Tio Nando has a really good point.
That which irritates you dominates you…As do plenty of other things.
I for one had a pretty miserable time the first few months of this year, dealing with professional and financial frustrations on top of personal challenges.
Recently, I feel like I’ve turned a corner, thanks to pondering a very important question:
How have I been playing a part in my own misery?
In my studies of Buddhism, I’ve come across “The Arrow” teachings a couple times. As I understand it, our natural impulse when inflicted with pain is to amplify the suffering by reacting to it. It’s as if you get physically hit by an arrow, and then grieve, suffer, complain about and relive the original pain, getting hit by a second (mental, unnecessary) arrow.
In other words, you don’t choose what happens to you (the first arrow), but you can choose how to react to it (averting the second arrow).
Easy to say, but as with many simple-sounding things, I find this this really difficult to practice.
I should know - I am a martyr to second arrows.
On a basic level, I spend too much time comparing myself and my progress to that of others. I measure myself against social standards that are easy to observe, even if I know that they’re not necessarily markers of internal satisfaction.
Also (not surprisingly for a writer), I let narrative get the best of me. I try to force every event, person, thing in my life into a coherent story, then I hold on to this story a bit too tightly.
Comparison (judgement) and attachment to narrative - these are my favorite second arrows.
As I mentioned in “Markers of Adulthood,” I’m trying to be kind to myself as I figure out how to live my life going forward. I realize, however, that I’ve confused self-compassion with self-indulgence - and this is another arrow.
Often in life we place qualities/values in opposition to each other on spectrums:
Self-compassion on one end, discipline on the other
Hard work on one end, luck on the other
Vulnerability on one end, self protection on the other
You get the idea.
Just the other day I was talking to my friend Anastasiya about these false dichotomies, and I think that in reality, none of these qualities/values are in opposition. In fact, we need to be able to practice both qualities/values at the same time.
In my urge to be self-compassionate, I’ve lacked discipline and fallen into self-indulgence. I’ve allowed myself to be hit with arrows Rickon Stark style instead of remembering that I know how to run in ways that would avert the danger. In the name of self-compassion, I’ve allowed my mind to run amuck and believed everything it thought instead of using the effective tools I know to deflect second arrows.
Sure, I chose a less traditional professional path. I didn’t choose for it to be so difficult, but I’m making myself suffer by comparing my progress to that of others on more trodden paths.
No, I didn’t choose to be born aromantic. But I’m choosing misery if I beat myself up for not having the romantic, traditional relationships that are the norm in our society.
What I treasure most in life is my inner peace, and without it, I have nothing. And instead of guarding my inner peace, my lack of discipline has let second arrows poke holes all over it.
I know that meditation helps me pause and figure out whether and how to respond instead of reacting to first arrows.
I know that the narrative of my life can be reframed in multiple ways.
I know that I can catch myself in comparison.
I know that I don’t have to believe everything I think.
It turns out that real self-compassion is actually really hard work because you’re constantly deflecting second arrows mid-air.
I’m up for the challenge, though - unlike Rickon, I know how to zig-zag.
Original artwork by Natalia Soares.