Difficulties, setbacks, and pain are an unavoidable part of life. However, it is possible to approach our experience of these difficulties in a manner that allows for us to remain grounded and cope more effectively, ultimately reducing the impact of painful experiences and allowing us to respond from a place of resilience.
A major part of coping effectively resides in the way we respond to pain or distress.
The metaphor of two arrows, or what is often referred to as “the second arrow,” metaphor is often used to describe this process. In this metaphor, the first arrow is the actual pain or painful circumstances at hand. This might be a small arrow, such as a setback at work or a hurtful comment, or a large arrow, such as illness or loss. We cannot control or avoid the first arrow.
However, we can have an impact on the second arrow, which is our reaction to the first. If we struggle, avoid, withdraw or fight against the first arrow, we will experience the second arrow and find ourselves experiencing more pain.
The practice of cultivating equanimity is one big way we can begin to shift our reaction to the first arrow and reduce or avoid the self-inflicted pain of the second. Equanimity can be defined as the quality of remaining grounded and stable in the midst of your experience. It involves responding with compassion and acceptance to whatever arrows strike us. It also involves letting go of futile attempts to change our reality or push back against things we cannot control.
When you find yourself struggling with the first arrow you might practice saying the following phrases to yourself:
May I experience acceptance
May I be at ease with my mind
May I know I am appreciated and loved
As you continue to reflect on any points of distress and consider your reactions to difficult situations, you might also practice repeating the following:
May I act with wisdom
May I respond with compassion
May I move forward in promoting the welfare my loved ones and others in my community
You can practice connecting with a sense of equanimity in the face of distress or worry by repeating such phrases to yourself, while focusing on grounding yourself by taking a few deep breathes. You might also consider writing down your own short phrases and repeating these as you practice responding from a place of equanimity.
Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Visit us at lindquistpsych.com
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