This is an excerpt from an interview with Vdiyamala Burch. I am currently reading her book "living well with pain and illness" So far it is a really good "chronic pain" book. She talks about her own experience of chronic pain, and it has a lot of physical therapy type exercises. I have tried a few of them and like them. There is also supposed to be a CD of guided meditations to go along with the book (there are meditative exercises in the book too)
Here she talks about Primary Vs. Secondary suffering, a concept that has helped my attitude a LOT!
Elisha: In your work you bring up the difference between primary and secondary suffering. Tell us a bit about that and why it’s important in dealing with pain?
Vidyamala: Very gradually, through examining my own experience, I have come up with the model of primary and secondary suffering that is based on the teaching of the Buddha in the Sutta of the arrow or the dart[i]. The Buddha talks about the actual sensations of physical pain being like being pierced by an arrow. Then, if we are not mindful or wise, we resist and resent this pain and these feelings of resistance and resentment are like a being pierced by a second arrow (or I actually think it is like being pierced by a whole volley of second arrows!) This means that we are left with an overall experience of suffering that is much greater than it needs to be. So, in my teaching, I encourage people to examine their actual experience by moving towards it with an open, receptive and kindly attitude and accepting whatever primary suffering is present in any moment with dignity and grace.
Honest awareness of this experience also helps to prevent the arising of unnecessary secondary suffering such as anxiety, secondary physical tension, out-of-control thinking and so on. People really seem to get this model and find it very helpful. For example, one woman talked about standing at the sink washing dishes and becoming aware of repetitive thoughts of distress about her pain and simply noting it as “second arrow – secondary suffering”, and this awareness and broader perspective helped the distress calm down and diminish.
This is SO true. I had to go to the dentist this week, no treat before I got fibro, let alone now. I ended up feeling better than I used to pre-fibro because I just did my mindfulness breathing, and when I would get an intense twinge due to them rooting around in my gums and start to tense up, I would just say 'second arrow' in my mind and make myself breathe and relax again. I am so glad I read this the day before I went!
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