Pain vs Suffering

Posted on: June 7, 2022

A concept passed down to us from the Buddha outlines the way we experience pain and contribute to our suffering. Pain, it is suggested, is the first dart to hit us. Whether subtle or substantial, this is the pain that occurs when we stub our toe on something misplaced as well as the heartache that occurs when we lose someone dear to us. These arrows are inevitable life; so long as we are human, we will be subject to the experience of pain.

The second dart however, unlike the first, is the dart we throw ourselves. These darts are our unconscious reactions to pain. They are inner thought streams such as:

· “This pain is unbearable.”

· “I will never get over this.”

· “This is just my luck. Today is an awful day.”

· “I deserve this,” or “I don’t deserve this.”

Second darts are our own add-ons to the raw experience of pain. They are not inevitable as they are the result of our own inner processes. In the words of Haruki Murakami,

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”

When we look at the circumstances of our lives, we might begin to inquire where we contribute to the experience of suffering. When pain arises — whether physical or emotional — what are the stories we tell ourselves that feed into our suffering? Where might we soften our thoughts and tune into the raw experience of the pain itself?

For most of us, the second darts we throw are largely unconscious. Yet through mindfulness practice, we become more aware of those subtle thoughts that inhibit us from moving gracefully through whatever pain it is that we are experiencing. Through mindfulness, we are invited to stay with that first dart, pausing before tossing one of our own.

Breaking free form this cycles allows for greater manifestation of peace and acceptance. So next time before you through the second dart — Just notice…take breath…and let go!